The Republican convention in Minneapolis Minnesota is a hodge podge of parts. One part social conservaties, other parts military hawks, other parts progressive evangelicals, and somehow someway all of these different parts must coalesce into a whole if the GOP has any hopes of winning the presidential election this fall. In the end of an uneven day of speeches and commentary, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska provided that lightening bolt for the the political Frankenstein that is the Republican party - now for the first time in months they can truly say "It's Alive, It's Alive" in reference the GOP base, as opposed to Fred Thompson.
On the whole the Republican convention is a very very subdued affair. After the rousing passion and excitement of the Democratic Party convention in Denver there is almost a sense in Minneapolis that they're just going through the motions. The convention center is almost empty during the day, whereas the Pepsi center in Denver was packed all morning noon and night. There is a paramilitary presense everywhere that you walk, with soldiers and police officers shipped in from various states across the union. While protesters ranging from Ron Paul supporters to anti-war demonstrators are allowed to protest right in front of the main security gate, contraband inside the convention center is severely curtailed. I had picked up two posters from a local vendor that depicted the Democratic and Republican conventions and was told at the security door that no outside posters, not specifically sanctioned by the McCain-Palin campaign would be allowed.
Again, you could walk through the corridors of the mostly empty Excell center and see very little in the way, of even Republican activism. It was almost like showing up 3 hours late for prom and all you see is the deflating balloons and streamers on the ground. You know SOMETHING probably happened here, or should have, but you didn't see it. You get the sense that the Republican party should be more riled up, if for no other reason than to counter the festivities of thier Democratic rivals last week, but little in the way of passion could be found. There were however various policy discussions, T. Boone Pickens, famous for his "Pickens Plan" commercials was traversing the center making converts to his energy policy as well as the usual bevy of late arriving delegates. It msut be noted that the Demographics of the convention were astounding, the vast majority of the attendees are older, with many many gray haired men and women attending as private citizens or delegates. What's more, the minority population was almost nonexistent, George Bush famously got almost 44% of the Latino vote in 2000 and 2004, a feat that I don't think John McCain will come even close to meeting if the convention population is any indicator.
As the evening rolled on, the excitement in the room started to rise bit by bit. Rudy Giuliani's speech got the audience ready for a rip-roaring sermon of electoral college shaking proportions, and they were not disappointed. Governor Sarah Palin did a fantastic job of doing exactly what the Republicans need to do in order to not lose, but may not have done enough in her first speech to make sure that they win. The GOP base loves Sarah Palin, her spunk her looks and her conservatism have provided this campaign with a kick that is most sorely needed. Her speech, while somewhat stiff in presentation, did a great job of exciting the faithful and putting out some impressive jabs on Barack Obama without even mentioning his name directly. Of course, this speech was simply speaking to the chior. Everyone in that room already knew they liked Sarah Palin and she could have read names out of the phone book and would have wowed the audience, but her goal was twofold, introduce herself and gain some votes. She did the first job perfectly the second job, not so much.
Palin's searing attacks on Barack Obama brough out boos and cheers from the audience, and she gave a little bit to each part of the modern GOP base, conservatives, hawks and evangelicals, but I doubt her comments played so well with the moderate voter. The truth is the most voters out there, don't HATE Barack Obama, they just aren't sure if he's ready, and are concerned about electing a black man to the White House. And most voters aren't awed by John McCain's service, they think he did a noble thing for his country 35 years ago, but 5 years in a bamboo tiger cage have nothing to do with paying 3.75 a gallon for gas, and $500.00 a month in perscription drugs. When the casual voter flips by to see jab after jab on Barack Obama, mixed with loud boos and jeers from the crowd, this is more of a turnoff than a turnon. Palin should've taken a cue from Joe Lieberman's much ignored but brilliant speech on Tuesday night. He literally buried Barack Obama in praise, claimed that such a talented man would make a wonderful president in about 5 years, but the urgency of now required a man with more experience. This is an argument that feeds into the fears that already exist about Obama in the swing voter's minds, the slice and dice tactics shown by Palin may provide some grist for the talking heads and right wing voters but will do little to move the casual political observer who just wants to see something get done in Washington.
In the end this third night of the convention sets the stage for John McCain's acceptance tommorow. If he is smart he'll have the confidence in his vice president and campaign team to firm up the conservative base so that he can reach out to swing voters. If not, McCain is going to left scrambling in the last 60 days shoring up a conservative monster that Obama secured 4 months ago.
Every once in awhile in the world of politics, you get a major suprise. A good one in fact. Most Americans are so used to being disappointed, the person they admired cheated on a spouse during the campaign, or stole money in thier previous position or even worse stole money from a cheating spouse in a previous position. But every once in awhile, you get exactly what you were expecting, and that's what happened on Thursday night with John McCain. He didn't give a rousing speech, it wasn't one for the ages, and you didn't see nearly as many people crying or laughing as you did with Sarah Palin or Barack Obama, but you did see a good simple speech by a man who wants to be president, and sometimes that's good enough.
Like most of the Republican convention, Thursday was a pretty subdued day. Through the morning, there was little activity, as people busied themselves around St. Paul and generally pretended to be on vacation rather than engaging in serious political business. The protesters were out in full force, again, and in many cases made an impact that was more newsworthy than convention worthy. I walked just about every inch of the Excel Energy Center, and most of the main streets in downtown St. Paul, you had to literally LOOK for the major protesters in order to see what was going on. The RNC, like the DNC just a week before, did a stellar job of keeping the protesters as far away from the public eye as possible.
By the early evening the energy level was increasing a bit. Reporters were anxious, (especially those who had been in Denver the week before) to see the week end in a big way, so that they could get back home and write something exciting. The conventioneers themselves were looking forward to something to keep them excited after the rousing speech by Gov. Palin the day before. Even the security was stepped up, although in an odd fashion. Two points of interest: The first was that the majority of the security for the convention was not local, appparently in the weeks and months prior to the convention the local police balked at having to work the convention. Now if you ask local folks they'll give you two reasons for this, one is that the local cops weren't going to get paid enough, another take is that they weren't Republican enough. I'm not sure which is more likely but it amazed me that few if any of the security forces and police in and around the convention could give directions because they were all from Wisconsin, Illinois and in some cases as far away as Indiana. The second point was that while the security to get into the convention was similar to that of any major airport, they added a unique twist. Rather than saying you couldn't bring in more than 20 ounces of any liquid, if you had that much liquid in your bag they insisted that you take a DRINK of it first. I assume that they figured if you didn't choke or die on the spot you must not be carrying acid or explosives and were free to enter. I must admit, I rather enjoyed these constant security 'taste tests' as we started to call them.
The actual lead up to McCain's speech was actually more exciting than the speech itself. There were so few people at the event that you could actually get right to the convention floor as a member of the press, and for a time I mingled among the tall signs saying "Texas", "Michigan" and "New York" that stood tall in the crowd like a forrest of politically active trees. Then there was a rush to head back upstairs as everyone wanted to see Barack Obama's short interview with Bill O'Reilly before McCain's speech. It must be noted that for the literally dozens of televisions running throughout the Excell Center they were only allowed to be on two stations, Fox News and CNN. No other major network, let alone cable network was available for viewing inside.
I watched McCain's speech with a sense of anticipation that was never quite met. He did a good job of telling me, and the rest of the world, what we already knew. That he's a good guy. That he loves his country, but that's about it. McCain looked awkward, spoke little of specifics, and didn't come close to he re-branding exercise that this campaign is supposed to be focused on. In fact, at the end of the speech, spaking with some Gen X, McCain supporters, I was shocked at how few of them could give me a theme for the McCain campaign. While many people at the convention can tell you why they love Gov. Palin, almost no one can explain why they like John McCain for more than one sentence without mentioning something they see as wrong with Barack Obama. While knowing why you don't like the opponent is critical, in the polling, canvassing and door knocking that is critical to this campaign, you can't win elections by voting 'against' the other guy, you have to convince people to vote FOR your candidate.
In the end, John McCain reminded me, of the great and charming political leader that took America by storm almost 8 years ago, one that the nation has been longing to see again during the last 18 months. He didn't appear last night, and may never show up, but at least he managed to give an adequate speech. And sometimes, after two weeks of rancorous excitement and partisanship, a simple speech on the nature of one's character was a breath of fresh, if not particularly exciting air.