Sunday, July 30, 2000

Convention a pep rally for party faithful

Locals want positive message

By Howard Wilkinson and Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What Ohio and Kentucky delegates to the Republican National Convention want more than anything else is to feel as good when they leave Philadelphia as they did when they got there.

        “We want to leave town on a roll,” said State Treasurer Joe Deters, an Ohio delegate who chairs the Hamilton County Republican Party.

        As the delegations begin arriving in Philadelphia, there is virtually no drama nor suspense awaiting them.

        In an era of big money and early presidential primary seasons, nominees are chosen months before the party faithful gather in their host city for the nominating convention.

        The delegates this year don't even have the prospect of hotel gossip about who the vice presidential candidate will be. Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive nominee, ended that last week with his choice of former defense secretary Dick Cheney.

        That may lead a lot of Americans to believe that the conventions have no purpose any more. But the truth is, the conventions have a different purpose today than selecting a nominee. They now are four-day pep rallies and long-play infomercials designed to sell the presidential ticket and its message to American voters.

        The convention is for “firing up the troops,” said Kentucky Republican Party vice chairman Damon Thayer.

        “We have 31 delegates and 31 alternate delegates from Kentucky who have a responsibility to come home and take the message from the convention back to the grass roots,” he said.

        And each morning of the convention, delegates from Ohio and Kentucky will meet in breakfast caucuses in their headquarters hotels and hear from a string of Bush campaign surrogates who will hammer home the “compassionate conservative” message of the Bush campaign.

        Many Ohio and Kentucky delegates and alternates say that with their party united behind Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney and the national polls tightening up, they are hoping the convention stays fo cused on an issue-oriented message.

        “This is our chance to define ourselves and our ticket for the American people,” said Jim Trakas, a state representative who leads the Cuyahoga County Republican Party.

        For Jean Blackmore, a 75-year-old first-time delegate from Troy, Ohio, that means “using the convention to get out the Republican message on education, health care, Social Security, Medicare — all the things people really care about.”

        “The message you are going to hear is we are compassionate conservatives,” said Kentucky U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning of Southgate.

        “We want to do those things a little extra under George W. Bush, like a prescription drug benefit for seniors, much more participation in an educational system that has been failing the people of the United States,” he said.

        Above all, the Ohio and Kentucky delegates say, the message coming out of Philadelphia has to be positive.

        What the delegates want to avoid most of all is the kind of mean-spirited image that came out of the GOP convention in Houston eight years ago, when President George Bush was renominated at a convention where party leaders left town in a sour, dispirited mood and went on to lose the fall election to Bill Clinton.

        That won't be the case this week in Philadelphia, said delegate Barb Haas of Fort Thomas, chairwoman of the Campbell County Republican Party. “George Bush is going to give us a positive message we haven't had in a while.”

        At the end of the week, Ohio and Kentucky delegates will be going home to states that will figure prominently in the strategies of both Mr. Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore.

        It is no accident that Mr. Bush led his bus-and-plane caravan to Philadelphia through Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati this weekend.

        No Republican has ever been elected without Ohio's 21 electoral votes.

        Though it has a relatively meager eight electoral votes, Kentucky is typically wooed by presidential candidates because it is a “swing state” that could go either way.

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