EDITOR’S NOTE: The Republican National Convention in Tampa is being covered for MarylandReporter.com and other news organizations by Capital News Service with four advanced student journalists and a professional editor from the University of Maryland College Park.
By Caitlin Johnston
Capital News Service
TAMPA, FLA. – Maryland delegates continued to arrive in Tampa Sunday afternoon as Tropical Storm Isaac brewed overhead and Republican National Convention officials scrambled to trim the four-day program down to three.
Despite shifts in speakers and events, delegates said they are flexible and eager to achieve their main goal: nominating Mitt Romney and preparing for the fall campaign.
“We had hoped this storm would have moved to Charlotte this week, instead,” said Louis Pope, Republican National Committeeman for Maryland, referring to next week’s Democratic National Convention in North Carolina. “But we’ve all lived out in the rain before. You’re going to get a little wet, your hair might not be perfect, but the message is still a clear message, and that’s to defeat Barack Obama and elect Mitt Romney.”
More than 160 Marylanders
More than 160 Maryland politicians, delegates and political activists arrived throughout the weekend in anticipation of a week of politics, networking and sightseeing. But Tropical Storm Isaac forced RNC officials to cancel Monday’s first day of events.
The convention will convene briefly on Monday and then immediately recess until Tuesday. Russ Schriefer, a Romney for President senior strategist, said he would be surprised if Monday’s events lasted longer than five minutes.
Convention officials managed to condense the program by eliminating some items, increasing the length of sessions and shortening some speeches, Schriefer said. All of the headliners will be incorporated into the remaining program.
Maryland GOP 2nd Vice Chairman Larry Helminiak said the state delegation was holding a meeting later to determine whether to change or cancel some planned events. Until then, the delegates said all they can do is be flexible and wait to hear the next move.
“It’s sort of like being married for a long time,” Helminiak said. “You just stand around and wait to be told what to do.”
Conventions from an earlier era
The origin of the convention itself is something out of the smoke-filled era of the early 20th century, Pope said. But instead of the raucous debates and back-door deals of the past, Pope said today’s conventions have taken on a more ceremonial role.
Conventions are an opportunity to thank party activists for their time and support over the years, Pope said.
“In some ways, it’s a little bit of a thank you for them, even though it’s a bit of an expensive way to do that,” Pope said. “You can spend a week in the Caribbean laying on your back in the sun for way cheaper, but if you’re a political junkie like myself it’s the nicest vacation you can have.”
Bring home energy
Maryland GOP Chairman Alex Mooney has been to several conventions, but never as a delegate. As party chairman, it’s his job to secure funding and find sponsors for the delegation’s various events. Since the big political questions of conventions, such as candidates and platforms, are usually settled beforehand, the main thrust becomes how to raise money and win elections in the fall.
“It’s a little harder in Maryland, because we’re the minority party,” Mooney said. “Every statewide office is held by Democrats. If someone wants special favors from government, they’re inclined to give big checks to the Democratic Party.”
Though there are no Marylanders on the bill for any of the main speeches, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will address the convention.
The importance of the convention isn’t necessarily the events that happen during the week, Mooney said, but the energy that delegates leave with and their willingness to inject that into campaigns back home.
“It’s too easy for conservatives and Republicans in Maryland to decide not to participate because we haven’t won statewide since Bob Ehrlich,” Mooney said. “But when they go to this convention, 160 or so people down there, they come back really super charged and to work hard through November and spread the vision.”
Maryland GOP will host events
In addition to participating in the votes, platform confirmation, and daily schedule of speeches, the Maryland delegation will also take time to host events of their own and explore the Tampa Bay area.
Each day will be a combination of daily breakfast meetings highlighting potential speakers such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, then touring the Bay area and seeing sites such as the historic Ybor City and the beaches of St. Petersburg before the convention program in the afternoon and evenings.
The delegation includes 18 members of the Maryland legislature: 14 members of the House of Delegates and four state senators. The remaining delegates are long-time party activists, many who have been involved for at least a decade, Pope said. The cohort includes former politicians, lawyers and the official merchandise provider for the convention. Pope said there was some effort to balance the delegation by gender and diversity, but also to reward people who have been working with the party for years.
“It’s is kind of a who’s who in the Republican Party,” Pope said. “There are very few people, maybe two or three, who joined the party and have been working in the party after 2010.”
Capital News Service staff writer Matt McNab contributed to this report.