Stateline Story

Convention 2004 - GOP Tastes Big Apple

  • September 01, 2004
  • By Erin Madigan and Eric Kelderman

Convention life is sweeter for delegates from swing states, especially those from Ohio, a battleground state with 20 electoral votes up for grabs.

Start with front-row seats on the convention floor in Madison Square Garden.

Add VIP speakers at breakfast meetings. On Monday, a trio of cabinet-level celebrities helped Republican Gov. Bob Taft rally the delegation: Chief Bush political advisor Karl Rove, Bush-Cheney '04 campaign manager Ken Mehlman and White House domestic policy advisor Margaret Spellings. Tuesday morning's fare: retiring U.S. Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), who is to address the convention Sept. 1, and fellow Democrat George McKelvey, mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, who recently veered from his own party to endorse President Bush.

Wednesday brought U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a Capitol Hill celebrity, but Ohioans were disappointed that invited guest, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, failed to drop by.

Taft laid out the stakes of the election. "We are front and center on the (convention) floor. We are front and center in this election. There is no single state that is more critical and more competitive than Ohio. We are the Florida of 2004," said Taft, who is chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

A new day for Maryland

What a difference four years have made for Maryland Republicans.

At the national GOP convention in 2000, the state party was in disarray and disregarded nationally. Then, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) looked on her way to being the next governor. U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich (R-Md.) was ensconced on Capitol Hill, and a guy named Michael Steele was vice-chairman of the struggling state Republican Party.

Now Ehrlich, who defeated Robert Kennedy's eldest child in 2002, is Maryland's first Republican governor since Spiro Agnew. And Steele, now lieutenant governor and the first African American elected to statewide office in Maryland, is speaking to the convention on prime time-television.

"Today, we have a packed room, lots of press, and I have to deal with the national press and so does Michael," Ehrlich told Maryland delegates Monday. "There's an excitement. An excitement born of one central fact: We won in 2002. Now we're relevant."

Relevant, perhaps, but not revered. Because Maryland has voted so strongly for Democrats in the past three presidential elections, the state party will get little financial support from the national party, Ehrlich lamented. Registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, and President Bush trails Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry in recent polls.

This election is about building up the grassroots of the state party, Ehrlich said. "One election does not a realignment make."

Who's calling?

Verizon features the rich bass voice of actor James Earl Jones to promote its telephone services. But IDT, (Integrated Device Technology Inc.), aka the "official long distance vendor of the 2004 Republican National Convention," uses the voice of ... former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore.

"Hello this is Jim Gilmore, former governor of Virginia and former chairman of the Republican National Committee," says the voice to conventioneers and media who dial in to use a complimentary calling card given to attendees.

And if you want "to find out more about the first-class local, long-distance and calling card services that IDT offers," Gilmore says, press one.

An unsettling start

GOP delegates descending on Madison Square Garden -- less than three miles from "Ground Zero," where the World Trade Center towers were felled Sept. 11, 2001 -- were undeterred by fear of a fresh terrorist attack, but one Midwestern state lawmaker's visit got off to an unsettling start.

"What if I told you that when we checked into the Embassy Suites, my room number was 911? That got the hot button of everybody," Indiana state Sen. Thomas K. Weatherwax told Stateline.org. "Even though I feel very safe. I think that New York has got tremendous courage and resiliency, and I think there are a lot of Republicans here that understand that."

Too much of a good thing

Delegates to the Republican National Convention fanned out across the Big Apple Tuesday to pitch in at the party's "Compassion Across America" community service projects. But not the New Hampshire delegation.

Organizers hoping to underscore the convention's theme du jour of compassionate conservatism apparently underestimated how much compassion there is in the party. At the end of the New Hampshire delegation's breakfast meeting, a state party official announced that there were not enough buses to take Granite State volunteers to their projects. "Enjoy the city," she said.

Members only

The Republican Governors Association is hosting several exciting events at the New York convention this week sponsored by nearly 90 different corporate and labor organizations, many of which do business with state governments.

But constituents won't be reading about their governors at those activities. Unlike many of the states' delegation events, all but one event hosted by the RGA, a policy and strategy organization for the GOP's 28 governors, are open only to invited guests and are closed to the media.

Sunday night, the governors were invited to imbibe "Martinis in Manhattan" at the palatial New York Palace Hotel. They also have the chance to play a round at the renowned Bethpage Black golf course on Long Island. And the association's grand finale will be a bash at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in Times Square featuring the band Blues Traveler.

The exception is Wednesday, when media are invited to attend a street fair in Brooklyn, featuring a musical performance by Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and his band Capitol Offense.