Convention Day 2: Excitement Building

Well my feet were a little better this morning and I made my way to a very interesting breakfast meeting for our delegation.  First, we were greeted by some amazing speakers including Gen. Bud Day (who was a fellow POW with McCain and attended to his injuries; he had the most amazing talk about the time he spent with McCain in the Hanoi Hilton), Michael Steele (former candidate for Governor in Maryland and one of the truly intellectual young stars of the party), and John Bolton (former, tough ambassador to the UN).  Any college group would give its four year budget to get any one of these guys and we had all three.  After the talks, I had the honor to be interviewed by CBS/Channel 2 news along with Kathy Salvi, another delegate, former candidate for Congress and a mother of six.  We were asked about the issues surrounding Palin and what we thought.   I then met with Andy Shaw of ABC/7 to respond to the issues of the day as well.  Both were great opportunities to tell people that no one understands the challenges and adversities we face in life better than John McCain, and by choosing Palin, who has faced many challenges from the oil companies in Alaska to the blessings of two (one to be born) babies, he demonstrates that this campaign is about who can meet adversity with grace, courage and conviction.  I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of understanding and support that has come in response to the pick of Palin.  After breakfast, I attended a Catholic mass and showing of a documentary “Advice and Dissent” about the contentious and bipartisan process for appointing and confirming Supreme Court nominees.  It was something everyone should see.

Whereas I thought I would have the opportunity to shop for campaign souvenirs, I had a pleasant surprise change of plans when I was invited to accompany a Deborah Raho, who works for Catholic Athletes for Christ, in escorting Laura Ingraham while she spoke at the Republican National Coalition for Life reception, sponsored by the Eagle Forum and members of the Texas Delegation.  Phyllis Schlaffly introduced the event and it was an incredible reception.  Laura was called to speak at the last minute after Sarah Palin, the original keynote speaker had to cancel.  We all understand why, she was not the VP pick when she agreed to do this.  We were greeted by Code Pink demonstrators (the first protesters I have seen) but the event was a rousing success.  Laura was emphatic in her support for Palin as a women who walks the walk.   I met some of the nicest, sharpest ladies from the Texas delegation so my hat is off to the strong group down there. 

Laura Ingraham speaks at Republican Coalition for Life event

Laura Ingraham speaks at Republican Coalition for Life event

After the event I headed over to the Convention where we had a tremendous night of speakers:  Laura Bush, President Bush remotely, Fred Thompson and Joe Lieberman.  In addition to hearing them, I got to spend a lot of the evening celebrity star gazing.  Our delegation seats are right next to the Fox News stage on the floor so we are right there with their coverage.  I got to meet Karl Rove, Sean Hannity, Brian Kilmeade and countless others.  Yes, it is all corny but each and every one of them was warm and gracious and genuinely glad to pose for photos.  I think this is their “rock star” moment, which I suspect did not happen in Denver.

Sean Hannity, a fellow delegate and me

Sean Hannity, a fellow delegate and me

Me with Brian Kilmeade

Me with Brian KilmeadeSean Hannity, Dick Morris and Alan ColmesGreta Von Susteren interviewing First Lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain

I ended the evening attending Meghan McCain’s book signing party for her childrens’ book My Dad, John McCain.  She struck me as an incredibly sweet and somewhat shy young woman with a tremendous amount of energy.  I then hobbled home, my feet covered with more wounds and blisters but excited about tomorrow.  There is definitely a feeling in the air that we will have some things to celebrate, if not this week here in Minneapolis, in November and January.  The fundraising efforts for the gulf states continue in full swing and the campaign has not really shifted that focus.  We are waiting to see what happens in the next day or so and how bad the floods and next storms will be.  I have never met so many concerned and diligent people.  I hope that everyone watching the convention gets to see what I see. 

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Convention Focuses on Gulf States

I know that conventions are about fundraising, but this one is clearly about a different kind of fundraising.  Clearly the focus this week is on the plight of those in the Gulf states and as a result, each delegation is working hard with various charities to raise money to help those in the greatest need.  Our delegation is working with Rebuilding Together, a non-profit that brings volunteers and communities together to rehabilitate the homes of low-income homeowners.  This group takes not only money but “in kind” donations so if you have lumber or concrete or tools to donate, they will coordinate the transport of those to the areas in need. Delegates have also been helping out with the phone banks and one of my colleagues was there after Cindy McCain’s speech when they raised over $1 million dollars in just a couple of hours.  So I guess when we talk about fundraising this week it is not for the party but for Americans!  So if you are reading this and watching the flooding down south go the link for rebuildingtogether.org and donate today.

Convention Day 1

The view of the convention from the Illinois seats

The view of the convention from the Illinois seats

Well, as a write this my feet are blistered and I am about to collapse.  And it is only Day 1.  I must learn to pace myself.  The day began with a breakfast meeting for all the Illinois delegates in our hotel.  There we learned about the logistics and the reduced schedule due to Hurricane Gustav.  In fact, many events were reduced or moved up due to the shortened working session of the convention.  After breakfast, I spent the morning with Bobbi Peterson meeting all sorts of fellow delegates and state officials along with many of our media.  One of the nice things is that our local media (including  the Tribune and Sun Times editors as well as Channel 2 (CBS), Channel 7 (ABC) and WGN reporters) are staying with us and participating in many of our activities.  It is a chance for the media to meet each of us and get our input on the story, the issues and our view of the convention.  After breakfast, I joined my husband’s college roommate on a very unusual art tour at the Chambers Hotel.  The hotel has several art installations and a gallery throughout its lobbies including a video project that has security camera footage of guests in their rooms (although really it has actors but it looks like the real thing).  After a quick lunch, it was off to St. Paul and the XCel Energy center for the convention.

The trip to the center was interesting.  The security is incredibly tight and we had a state trooper on our bus and police escort the whole way.  We did not see any protesters but we hear they are here.  Going through the metal detectors was efficient and thorough and then we were in.  My first activity was to meet Tamika Thompson a Young Voices reporter for Tavis Smiley’s show.  It was a great opportunity to talk about why I am writing this blog and how I got it started.  I also got to share some of my views on some of the issues, especially the choice of Palin as VP, and share some of my experiences as a First Timer.  You can tell who we are because we are taking pictures at every turn.  Then it was into the convention hall for the beginning of the first session.

Convention hall before the delegates arrive

Convention hall before the delegates arrive

After a call to order, the pledge and the national anthem, those of us participating in the working committees were called to leave the floor and go to their committee meetings.  There are four working committees, the Rules, Platform, Credentials and Permanent Organizaiton, and each consists of one male and one female delegate from each state.  Our committee nominated and approved the slate of officers for the RNC Organization.  With that work done, we returned to the floor to hear from various party officers and then we had remote feeds from each of the gulf state governors (all Republicans) who remained home to manage the effects of Gustav.  As a result, many of the later events became fundraisers.  And then Laura Bush and Cindy McCain each spoke about the crisis facing our southern gulf states and gave out fundraising information.  The speeches were short and serious and both women are just so gracious that is was moving to see them speak.  Because our seats are located right next to Fox News podium, we have front row seats to their coverage, and we had the privilege to watch close up Greta Von Susteren’s interview with both women.   After leaving the floor I had the privilege to meet Sen. Sam Brownbeck at a gathering for the Catholics for McCain.  By the way, they had really good cheeseburger sliders.  After hobbling out to the bus back to the hotel, I finally got to sit down and put my feet up. 

There is no doubt that there are challenges facing this convention.  Gustav and Palin’s daughter have affected the media coverage of the event and as a result, Americans are not able to see that there is real work being done.  Not only are delegations getting together to help raise funds for relief efforts, but a lot of work is going on within each delegation.  I hear my fellow delegates talking constantly about the issues facing their districts and the changes they are working for.  Not only is it an opportunity to network, but to share information whether it is about how to deal with a certain public offical or how local officials resolved problems.  It puts to rest the notion that conventions are merely media events.  It is a genuine sharing of party ideals and getting to know the people who are working hard to make their districts or states better.  I feel like I have become Pollyanna, but I am encouraged by our political process as I see the real work up close.   No doubt our campaign faces some challenges but I am so confident now that the delegates and candidates are up to these challenges and will meet them head on with grace, dignity and honest hard work.

Convention Eve: My Arrival in Minneapolis

Posing with Honest Abe

Posing with Honest Abe

The cast of American Carol

The cast of American Carol

Tomorrow is the first day of the RN Convention.  I have to admit I was incredibly excited this morning as I packed my bags for the airport.  The convention, however, has taken on a different atmosphere as everybody tracks the path of Hurrican Gustav.  In light of the likely disaster, the actual workings of the convention have been reduced to the bare minimum business.  Tomorrow’s session will only include the official opening of the convention and the work of the committees.  There will be no prime time showcase speeches and President Bush has cancelled his appearance.  Even some of the more public events have been cancelled as well.  I think this is appropriate.  It is hard to celebrate when a large contingent of the country is being evacuated from their homes.  Also, instead of promising action on behalf of Americans, party members want to commit themselves to actually serving the needs of Americans.  I definitely sense a strong atmosphere of concern for those along the Gulf Coast.  But there is still work to be done here and many people here seem more committed to getting important things done efficiently and without too much waste. 

I have already begun the part of meeting my fellow delegates, not only from Illinois but around the country.  On the plane I sat next to Bobbi Petersen from Will County and she was such a delight.  She seems to know her way around these things which is helpful to a first timer like me.  At the baggage pickup when we arrived, she was able to introduce me to two other delegates from our flight.  We also spotted Mo Rocca from the Comedy channel.Then we all got to be interviewed by our local TV station, WGN about our arrival.  My husband recorded it so I can’t wait to see it.  I proudly wore a Cubs hat given to me at the last minute by my son before I left so it did its work.  After finding our way to the hotel, we were greeted by IL GOP officials and tons of “stuff”.  I’ve been to business conferences before but this is even better.  Lots of snacks, tchothckes, books, souvenirs but my favorite is the AFLEC goose that says “AFLEC! AFLEC!” when you press it.

Then it was off to the premiere of the Michael Moore satire, An American Carol.  And yes, there was popcorn, sodas and movie candy like Milk Duds, Junoir Mints and Twizzlers.  The movie had some funny parts and many of the cast members along with Director David Zucker were there so it was fun to hear them talk about the film.   I sat with a really nice McCain delegate from Massachusetts named Monica and got to hear about how hard it is to be a delegate in Romney land.   I could definitely get spoiled.  The next stop was a Red Carpet reception for all the Delegates which had not only really good food (the food at American Carol was the best so far) but very interesting exhibits including a miniature White House, historical displays, an Air Force One fuselage, a Lincoln impersonater and even Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty.  Also, tons of McCain/Palin items for sale, so lots of shopportunity.  On the way to another event, I got to see Sen. Lieberman arrive at his hotel.

My final stop was to the nightclub, EPIC, which had goody bags and Vodka and Nutrisoda drinks (they tasted like Flinstone chewable vitamins) and met a large crew from the North Dakota delegation.  We met Connie who is also Secretary of the Contest Committee and she will be calling the roll call as the official in charge.  It was really interesting to hear from an expert at these things and to hear her enthusiasm for the convention and the VP pick, especially from a true veteran.  I also learned that there is a nudist among their delegation which is rather funny given they live in North Dakota.  I also learned of the friendly rivalry with South Dakota.  That actually brings to mind that every where I have been and everyone I have met is excited to be here, proud of their state and there is a feeling that we are all part of team working for this incredible goal.  I know it sounds hokey but it is really true.

As a I get ready to collapse, I am looking forward to a day of real work and getting to know so many more people.  Food Ratings:  American Carol had the best hors’douevres, and an A+ for the movie snacks, a C- for the vitamin drinks.

Thrilled about Palin as McCain’s VP Pick

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be interviewed for CBS Channel 2 News about my thoughts on the selection of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate.  I could not be more thrilled.  I thought I would share some of my thoughts expressed during the interview.

First, she brings unique qualifications to the job.  As a tough reform Governor in a state where everything is tougher, she has demonstrated on ability to take on the Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate.  This is something left to the VP and she is ready.  Importantly, she understands one of the most impoprtant issues facing the next administration – energy supply and independence and the environment.  Alaska is the forefront for many of our energy issues, including drilling, pipelines and the environment.  She is uniquely equipped to handle the competing interests as they emerge on a national scale as we debate energy independence. And she understands the military.  Although she has not personally served, she is the commander in chief of the Alaskan National Guard and knows first hand the requirements for our troops.  And as a mother of a soldier, she truly understands the issues and concerns facing all military families.

Secondly, she is prolife.  This quality transcends the abortion issue.  Her views on the sanctity of human life will permeate all the important decisions she and the administration will face.  Whether it is understanding the threat of terrorism and radical jihads, deciding when to send troops into battle, analyzing economic impacts on families, or appointing judges to the federal bench, she understands that it is our lives at stake and that each life affected is of unique worth.

And finally, I have to say it, she is a woman and a relatively young one at that.  That means she represents the future, the fresh new face of the Republican party.  It is clear with the choice of Palin, McCain is redefining the party for this century and we should be thrilled to see her as one of the many bright stars.

Convention Countdown: 3 Days to Go and a VP!

What an exciting day.  Obama and the Democrats have had their big night and by all accounts it was as expected:  a lot of smoke and mirrors (literally), a well delivered speech laying out pie in the sky promises, and the “crowning” (not my words but an ABC reporter’s) of their nominee.  But the celebration seems to be shortlived as McCain is set to announce his VP, in yet another historic move. 

As I am writing this, Fox News is reporting that they have confirmed that the VP will be Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska.  I am thrilled to have both a woman and pro-lifer on the ticket.  Just this morning someone asked me who I thought it might be and I said that based on the conference calls I have particpated on and the tidbits I get from within the campaign, I thought it would be a surprise.  When I said it may very well be a woman and Palin, people thought I was crazy.  Wednesday evening, during one of our weekly delegate conference calls, we heard about the platform committee’s work and got a clear understanding of what will be the cornerstone issues.  After the call, in discussing it with fellow delegates, the tea leaf reading was that the VP may very well not be Romney or Pawlenty.  All of the work of the last couple of days has been about reading tea leaves but now we can move forward on defining the Party and  getting our message out to voters.

So what is in the Platform?  Well one of the most prominent issues is the Supreme Court and appointments to the federal bench generally.  This is probably the one area in which the President alone has the greatest effect on our lives.  It is clear that Senator McCain is pro-life and the courts are the most important battlegrounds for that issue.    To emphasize those values, Palin as VP would underscore McCain’s committment to upholding the value of every human life.  But I am politicizing and what is more important is to relay that it seems like the Platform Committee work is well underway.  Look for a big discussion on the courts and a heavy handed look at Joe Biden’s failure as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to get qualified, intelligent judges appointed and his politicizing of appointments.  Remember he led the attack on Robert Bork the most qualified man never to be appointed.  I have also been actively helping out the Catholic Working Group from the campaign which is McCain’s organized effort not only to reach out to Catholic voters, but to address and consider those issues that Catholics and other religious folks are most concerned about.  It has been a great opportunity to meet Josh Lynch, the director and to see the great events they are sponsoring.  In addition to a Mass, there will also be talks including a very timely one by Archbishop Chaput who has written a book “Render Unto Ceaser”, which addresses the faith/political life dichotomy.  You may remember Chaput who recently criticized Sen. Biden who is being touted by the Democrats as the Catholic candidate.  Based on the responses to McCain’s strong convictions expressed at the Saddleback debate and with Biden, a Catholic, as VP nominee, this group will be working hard during the campaign.  Look for more information on these efforts in the weeks to come.

In speaking with fellow delegates, it is clear that we are an excited and energized group.  I am amazed at how many first time delegates, like me, there are.  I think this speaks volumes about the process and the direction of the state party.  Having fresh new faces active in a party brings a lot.  I am also amazed at how many veterans are continuing to serve their country by becoming delegates.  It not only shows the confidence that our military personnel have in McCain as the next commander-in-chief, but how important our national security and defense is as an issue.  Terrorism is not going away and to think that we can keep at bay through negotiation and law enforcement is not sufficient. 

If the pundits are right and that the Democratic convention, but for a few highlighted speeches, was slow, lackluster and not an exposition of the ideas of the party, I think we will see the opposite from Minneapolis/St. Paul.  The “vibe” I get (and yes, I can generate my own enthusiasm) is that people are excited to get out there and showcase the new and bright talent of the Republican Party, to show that it is not a party mired in old stereotypes and worn out ideas but has a fresh, optimistic and innovative look towards the future.  Yeah, I am a little corny, but am psyched to be part of that.

Convention Countdown: One Week to Go

It is one week before delegates arrive in Minnesota for the Convention.  The last month has been a series of weekly conference calls, either with the national campaign or the local delegation officials.  Much of these calls deal with logistics:  hotel information, transportation, meal and briefing schedules and, yes, what to wear.  It may sound superficial, but because the event is televised and there will be lots of media looking for stories and interviews,  you should assume you will be caught on camera or interviewed by some news outlet.  I have to say, as someone who does not dress up for work everyday, this is helpful information – how formal? how business like? what level of casual?  It has also given me a small license to shop which, as my sister says, is a “shopportunity”.  But these calls are also a good way to feel the pulse of the campaign and how it changes from week to week.  One of the early calls suggested that one way to get the Republicans into the media spotlight is to offer our individual stories as delegates.  It is clear that when looking at my fellow delegates, the Republican party is a diverse and interesting group of people, many of whom are a far cry from the “country-club, business owning, white, higher income” stereotype.  So, in one sense, this blog is a way to get “my story” out there, let people know that Republicans represent normal people who spend most of their time doing normal everyday things for and with their families.  Another clear direction is that we are encouraged to speak about the kind of person McCain is and about his family and accomplishments, but disparaging other candidates is not supported by the campaign.  This has been McCain’s consistent strategy from the primaries into the general election:  this is about issues and the differences on these issues, it is not about slinging mud.

One of the overwhelming parts is the inundation of invitations to events:  not just food related, but real substantive presentations.  My first invite was to an event sponsored by a No Tax Organization, but then the next was to a movie premiere.  Since I am a huge movie buff, I responded with an immediate yes to see “An American Carol”, a satire poking fun at Michael Moore and Hollywood liberals.  I hope there is free popcorn.  But since then, there are invites to discussions on many hotbutton issues, from taxes to the Supreme Court.  The Federalist Society (of which I have been a member) is hosting a truly bi-partisan debate on the future of the Supreme Court between Ted Olsen (former Solicitor General under Bush) and Lawrence Tribe (liberal Harvard Law Professor and litigator).  And these events are just the extra-curriculars,  things to attend apart from the actual delegation meetings and daily briefings and the actual Convention itself.  My sense is that food is the real draw, but I will let you know how things taste.  I guess I could have a special food critic section to this as well.

Because the names of the delegates have been given to the press, I, like many of my co-delegates, have had requests for interviews.  I have had the opportunity to speak to the NY TImes/CBS News, our local Daily Herald and have requests for a couple of national talk shows.  It really is exciting.  Some of the interviews are about who I am, how I got to be a delegate and what are my views on the state of the war, the economy and who might the VP pick be.  But others are less open and more specific, like responding to poll-like questions.  The problem with those poll-question interviews is that the answers they are looking for are supposed to be black and white.  What I have learned is that there is no pure yes or not answer to something like:  Will McCain continue the policies of George Bush?  Well, on some things, yes, in principle, but maybe no in terms of manner.  I also find it important to distinguish my own personal views and hopes from that of the campaign and McCain himself.  Making those distinctions and keeping those views separate is probably the hardest part.   But the questions themselves are incredibly insightful into the media strategy for covering the campaign, and to some extent, revealing where the liberal bias is and what direction it is taking the coverage.   

And finally, there is my participation on the Permanent Organization Committee.  During the Convention, I will be meeting with RNC officials along with two delegates (one man and one woman) from each state to nominate those party members that will serve the party in an official capacity.  It is important because those whom we choose will be responsible for the party’s and the convention’s organization.  The most famous committees are probably the Rules and Platform Committees and they have already been working hard.  I am looking forward to seeing up close the inner workings of the party and getting to know delegates from other states.