From the Convention
Gazette reporter Sean Sedam will be reporting from the Republican National Convention all this week. Check this page regularly for updates.
An energized GOP heading home
Posted at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 5
Sixty days until Election Day after a Republican National Convention that Maryland delegation chairman Don Murphy said "went from zero to 60 in four days."
The opening day's scaled-back schedule because of Hurricane Gustav largely forgotten, Republicans head home today saying that questions about McCain and running mate Gov. Sarah Palin have been answered.
"We’ve got momentum," Murphy said. "We've got issues, experience."
Murphy said he thought that McCain's speech on Thursday night "hit all the right notes," though some party faithful said privately that they felt Palin gave the stronger speech. "I think, if I'm not mistaken, he's going to be the nice guy and she's going to be the hammer," Murphy said.
McCain talked about his life and pledged to work across party lines to reform Washington, a message that resonated with Anne McCarthy, an at-large delegate from Baltimore and 2006 candidate from comptroller.
"It should not be about policies, but what's his vision for this country, and he delivered on it wonderfully," McCarthy said.
Philip Baker-Shenk, a delegate who served as McCain's general counsel during the mid-1990s, called the speech "vintage John McCain" and said the country got to know the man he knows.
"It was a message that has colored his whole public life," Baker-Shenk said. "He will reach out to an enemy or to an adversary and say 'Let's share the cause together.' That's the message that this country’s been looking for."
Mykel Harris, an alternate delegate who is chairman of the Prince George's County Republican Central Committee, said he was "extremely pleased with [Palin]'s speech and John McCain knocked it out of the park" by telling the story of how his Vietnam experience remade him.
"I'm going to go back to Maryland and I'm going to let this light shine to anyone who wants to see it," he said.
Keturah Harley, another Prince George's central committee member, said she decided to travel to St. Paul when she heard that Palin was the pick.
Palin is a role model for young women to aspire to, Harley said.
"It's refreshing and exciting to see that at the top finally," she said. The campaign was not delayed by Monday's abbreviated schedule but really started the previous Friday when McCain answered any uncertainty by picking Palin, said Larry Helminiak, an at-large delegate.
"Every conservative that was sitting back came out of the closet and is on board now," he said. "No more uncertainty from here on out."
House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell, an at-large delegate, said he was struck by how "the depths of [McCain's] character" came through in his speech.
"He's not a Hollywood flash in the pan," O’Donnell said, adding that Republicans were ready for the campaign's home stretch.
"It was a good speech; we've got a good ticket, a good platform. The Republican Party's united and we're very happy to work for Sen. McCain this fall and go win the election."
All of that hard work for nothing. That must've been how Maryland for McCain Chairman Chris Cavey felt as he watched the delegation's two charter buses pull away from the delegation hotel, bound for the Prairie Island Indian Reservation ... without him.
The delegation attended a luncheon powwow and visited the Treasure Island Resort & Casino on Wednesday.
Cavey was rounding up stragglers at the hotel when the buses took off. Rushing from the lobby, he chased on foot, to no avail.
"The lady that was out there, I don’t think she understood," Cavey said of the driver. "I think she thought I was waving goodbye."
As delegates left St. Paul, Cavey offered up some SWAG (Stuff We All Get) from Planet Green, a new network from the Discovery Channel.
A Discovery representative called Cavey before Maryland Republicans pushed off for St. Paul offering bags, just as the communications company had offered to Maryland Democrats in Denver last week.
The Dems' connection was Gov. Martin O’Malley, an honorary board member to the new environmentally sound network. Cavey said the Discovery rep told him: "We don’t usually get political, but we made all these promises to your governor and thought it would be very unfair to Republicans if we didn’t offer you guys too."
Cavey was trying to unload the bags on Wednesday.
"Come by and get one 'cause I'm not taking them home," he said.
Palin and Steele make mark with Maryland
Posted at 11:05 a.m. Sept. 5
"I had had expectations because of the hype leading up to it," said Katie Nash, an alternate delegate from Frederick. "She definitely blew me away."
The program featured several female CEOs, including former eBay chief Meg Whitman and former Hewlett-Packard head Carli Fiorina.
"But to see the vice presidential nominee be a woman was amazing," Nash said.
"The media said she needed to be tough and appeal to regular American women," she said. "Being there last night I definitely felt that came through."
Nash, attending her first convention, said she had no idea about the energy of the convention atmosphere, especially after the first day's somber tone amid news of Hurricane Gustav.
On Wednesday, "the intensity ramped up," she said.
Andrew Langer, who is coordinating the McCain campaign on the Eastern Shore, said it took Palin some time to warm up before "she got into her groove, found her comfort level and it was warp speed from there."
Wednesday was the highlight of the convention to that point, Langer said.
Former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, whom Langer befriended several years ago and has partnered with him in charity work, was a high point for the Maryland delegation.
Langer and Steele are part of a group of Republicans who meet at Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street in Northwest Washington once a month.
"There's nothing more exciting than watching someone who's one of your good friends rise to such a high level because of their abilities," Langer said.
Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman James Shalleck was also a fan of Steele's "Drill, baby, drill!" line, which Del. Chris Shank of Hagerstown turned into a chant that the Maryland delegation led.
Shalleck marveled at the lineup of speakers that paraded through the Maryland delegation's breakfast room throughout the week, from Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
"Politically this is a great kickoff," Shalleck said. "The campaign really starts Friday. The leaders of the campaign are here. We're really going back energized."
While Maryland delegates cheered Palin in person on Wednesday night, more than 100 people gathered at Growler's restaurant in Gaithersburg to watch her speech at a GOP sponsored party, Shalleck said.
"So our team back there is here in spirit," Shalleck told delegates at Thursday's breakfast. "I told em last night we were there in spirit and when we go back on Friday we're going to run this thing right to the end. We're going to win Maryland. That's all there is to it."
Of red meat and delegation seats
Posted at 5:50 p.m. Sept. 3
"It brought out the red meat and it started the convention in earnest," said Del. Tony McConkey (R-Dist. 33A) of Severna Park. "Sen. Thompson was great because he went point by point on all the talking points of the Democrats."
That included McCain's finance reform efforts and his urging for a troop surge in Iraq, which Thompson said had resulted in turning the tide on the war.
Chris Cavey, chairman of McCain's Maryland campaign, said he was "pumped" to see Thompson on the big stage. Cavey was co-chairman of Thompson's campaign in Maryland before Thompson dropped out.
"One of reasons I like Fred so much and volunteered to do so much of Fred's work is because I love how Fred tells it how it is," Cavey said, adding that Thompson's manner reminds him of Hampstead where he grew up and still lives.
"It's gas station politics," he said. "It's the guys at the Jiffy Mart telling it like it is. They're not always as eloquent, but most of the time they're right."
In the thick of it
Maryland delegation Chairman Don Murphy has bragged that the delegation's seats on the convention floor are better than those of their Democratic counterparts in Denver. (Hey, at least the Republicans have seats on the floor.)
Maryland's placement might not be such a blessing. The seats are stage left, behind two rows of Kansas delegates. In front of Kansas is a well-traveled walkway around the convention floor (think of it as the Maryland side of the Capital Beltway). In front of that are (in order from farthest to closest to the stage): Massachusetts, Mississippi, Indiana, Oregon and Missouri.
But perhaps more distracting is what's going on behind the delegation. That's where a number of cable news outlets are stationed.
Most prominently on display is CNN, with a set that rises about 4 feet above the convention floor, putting viewers in the middle of the action and leaving Maryland delegates to crane their necks around a constant stream of television opportunists, cell phones to ears, waving to friends back home as they stand just behind Wolf Blitzer and gang.
Delegates are saying that their alternates positioned in the seating bowl above them have a much better vantage point. But from up there alternates weren't able to get photos with Michael Steele, who paid his home delegation a visit on Tuesday night, or Lynn Swann, the Pittsburgh Steeler Hall of Famer who ran for Pennsylvania governor in 2006.
Among the admirers was a woman who referred to the pair as "rock stars." We assume she knew Swann was the most valuable player of Super Bowl X.
The Maryland delegation should get its chance to cheer tonight as Steele is scheduled to address the convention in the 8 to 9 p.m. time slot after getting bumped from Tuesday's program.
Famous faces in the crowd
Thompson wasn't the only actor in the convention hall on Tuesday night. Jon Voight was there, seated in a section for special guests that included President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara, who received a two-minute standing ovation from the floor as they were introduced by first lady Laura Bush.
Then there was comedy writer Robert Smigel, known for his cartoons on "Saturday Night Live" and a Rottweiler-looking puppet known as Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."
Pawlenty to talk about
Score one for Murphy, who landed an 11th-hour coup at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
The delegation's morning schedule of speakers was bare when breakfast service started at 8 a.m. — evident by the sparse attendance.
Shortly before 9 a.m., Murphy was seen hustling through the Embassy Suites lobby. A few minutes later, in front of a suddenly packed breakfast room, he triumphantly introduced a surprise speaker: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
"We are kindred spirits in some ways from Maryland to Minnesota and some other states," Pawlenty said. "There's a select group of states that know what it's like to have a pretty steep uphill climb in trying to be Republicans and conservative in a state that has a history and a legacy of going the other way. You are in a state that is the land of Humphrey, the land of Mondale, the land of McCarthy, the land of Wellstone.
"So we know a little bit about liberal traditions and heritage and culture, but we also know in more recent years with the right candidate and the right messages and good ideas that Republicans can win in Minnesota. And I know Bob Ehrlich and Kendel, they tried really hard in a race that I barely won here, they lost in Maryland, but we know what the dynamics are like."
Pawlenty who called himself a "Reagan Republican" talked about Republicans communicating their ideals "in ways that are effective, impactful."
He asked delegates how many times they had heard President Ronald Reagan act in a way that was "angry, demeaning, disrespectful, negative."
"Ronald Reagan was a hopeful optimistic positive civil leader … Overall, people like positive, hopeful, optimistic leadership," Pawlenty said.
Opening night 2.0
Posted at 11:05 a.m. Sept. 3
And that meant Free State Republicans didn't get a chance to hear former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele address the crowd.
The tentative schedule has penciled in the GOPAC chairman to take the stage at the Xcel Energy Center for tonight's session.
"In primetime," a woman in the convention's press office said.
Joining Steele will be former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the woman Arizona Sen. John McCain selected as his running mate.
Delegates are anxious to do some cheering after the first day of the convention was overshadowed by outside forces including Hurricane Gustav, violent street protests and news that Gov. Sarah Palin's unwed teenage daughter is pregnant.
Maryland delegates reacted to Monday's announcement by the Palin family.
"Being a parent you're only able to do so much," said Philip Greene, a delegate from Frederick. "… [Palin]'s family oriented and probably taught her daughter the importance of motherhood and family. Democrats go back and forth. They've criticized Palin for having a child too old and now they're criticizing her daughter for having a child too young."
John McCain's choice of Palin as his running mate was a hit with Greene's mother.
"My mom actually cried," Greene said.
McCain's description of Palin as a "standout point guard" on her high school basketball team was not lost on Greene's mother, whom he described as "a tomboy" who played sports while growing up on a farm in Ijamsville.
"[Choosing Palin] represents, for my mom's generation, a huge connection," Greene said.
Asked if the pregnancy revelation meant Republicans should be worried that there are other surprises about Palin yet to come, Greene said that there are unknowns for both tickets.
"The thing is, you never know," he said. "[Still] McCain's been vetted for decades. Obama's been vetted for the last year and a half."
The case against Obama
Greene was not the only Republican questioning Obama's credentials this week.
"As far as I'm concerned he's not a legitimate contender. He hasn't paid his dues. What I ask the media to do is take off the rose colored glasses," said Dan Rice, one of the delegation's oldest members at 82.
It will take the Illinois senator six to 12 years to compile the record necessary to "prove himself," said Rice, a delegate from Reisterstown who is attending his first convention.
No rose-colored glasses for Tommy Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin and President George W. Bush's Secretary of Health & Human Services during his first term.
"You're either for America with John McCain or you're for Barack Obama and the Democrats, who I think most of the time are anti-American," Thompson told the Maryland delegation during their Tuesday breakfast. "And I shouldn't say that, but I believe it."
Protesters, pages and police
There were anti-war protesters and there were people breaking windows and clashing with police in the streets near the Xcel Energy Center on Monday.
Arne L. Schoeller Jr., of Baltimore, met some of the polite protesters. He and some of his fellow Maryland delegates also met one of the less polite protesters.
Schoeller, who grew up in the Twin Cities region and was a page in the Minnesota state legislature, decided on Monday to take a stroll down Memory Lane and walked 10th Street to the capitol building.
"I knew there'd be protesters," he said. "There were some nice folks who definitely were protesting who were very congenial, and they probably figured out I was a delegate."
Then there were police in riot gear who looked like "big black armadillos," Schoeller said.
But it wasn't until later in the day, aboard a delegation bus returning from a Dominion Power-sponsored lunch excursion to Circus Juventas — a circus school in St. Paul — that the Maryland delegation got to see another side of the protests.
"At one point where we were sent was blocked by police cars," Schoeller said.
The bus driver stopped to get directions from an officer. He left the door open for a few seconds after the officer walked away. A protester saw the opening and jumped aboard.
"He yelled—I'm paraphrasing: Thank you for screwing up the country for the last several years,'" Schoeller said.
Then he flashed the "We're No. 1" sign (not using his index finger) and jumped back into the crowd outside.
Schoeller's first thought: "He probably was just some young guy who went back and told all his friends."
His second thought: "But what if he wasn't young."
Schoeller said he planned to walk back to the delegation's hotel after the convention wrapped on Monday. "And then I said, No, I'm not walking. I don't want to encounter any of these people.'"
He did encounter a number of police officers — it is impossible not to in downtown St. Paul this week — including one on each shuttle bus between the convention and the delegation hotels.
"I thanked each one of them," Schoeller said.
A day of deference
Posted at 9:13 a.m. Sept. 2
President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were all bumped from the convention’s first day.
With eyes on Hurricane Gustav, opening day struck the right tone of "humility," said Carmen Amedori, a delegate from Carroll County who was a member of the House of Delegates from 1999 to 2004.
Still, delegates would be restless if they did not get to "throw confetti and cheer" by the third or fourth day, Amedori predicted.
"People took vacation days," she said.
Just as Amedori commented again on the "low-k