Republicans gather in Tampa this week to nominate Mitt Romney for president after a bruising primary and for their first national convention since the Tea Party emerged as a powerful political force.
More than 2,200 delegates will converge on the Tampa Bay Times Forum, a mix of veteran political operatives, wealthy businessmen, and increasingly vocal activists who now find themselves closer to the center of power. And because of Tropical Storm Isaac, the GOP will face a hurry-up dynamic with the Monday events being canceled until Tuesday afternoon out of safety concerns.
While the GOP increasingly emphasizes its conservative principles, the convention demonstrates an uneasy alliance between those who backed Romney and others who threw their energy, support and time behind the socially conservative Rick Santorum and the libertarian Ron Paul. The draft of the party platform reflects a desire to bring these factions together, as it includes a call to study a return to the gold standard (a clear nod to Ron Paul).
The Fiscal Times spoke with delegates from six of the major swing states, several of them first-timers eager to have more of a say at the party’s quadrennial convention. They include locally elected officials, military veterans, those at the start of their careers and the growing out-of-work white collar class. It’s a glimpse into how Republicans think and their vision for the country should they recapture the White House and possibly the Senate.
There’s a mix of views about Romney, but this group is unified by one belief: President Obama has been a disaster and needs to be replaced. Many parrot standard GOP talking points such as the president being anti-business and concerns about the national debt, while others frame the election on more extreme lines about the government’s role in the economy and taxation.
Unemployed in Nevada
David Buell, chairman of the Washoe County Republican Party in Nevada, has a deeply personal concern about the economy: Four months ago, he was laid off as the chief financial officer of a ready mix concrete company – reflecting the sharp decline in the state’s construction industry.
The economy can only create jobs for millions out-or-work Americans like him, he believes, with a new GOP administration devoted to lowering taxes and limiting regulations in a way that fuels growth. Obama’s line about government spending on schools and roads enabling growth is a sign to him that the government just doesn’t get it.
“Mitt Romney understands business, he built a business, he knows what to do [in a tough economy] to build a business, expand a business and make it thrive,” said Buell, 59. “With Obama’s ‘You didn’t build that’ attitude, he is definitely not friendly to business.” Buell has lived in Nevada for 34 years, pursuing a business career and dabbling in Republican politics in the Reno area. His son, Chris, 25, is a Marine veteran who served multiple tours in Iraq.
As a Romney delegate, Buell is in a distinct minority in the Nevada delegation, where 22 of 28 delegates are committed to Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., a libertarian who swept to victory in the Nevada GOP caucuses. Despite sharp divisions and disarray within the Nevada Republican Party, Buell said he was confident state Republicans would rally round Romney, especially with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan as the vice presidential candidate.
“Now we’re going to have a real debate about the issues,” he said.
Rain Boots for Ron Paul
With the cost of attending the convention adding up to about $4,000, Missouri delegate Heather Coil decided to raise money online from fellow Ron Paul supporters to help offset her expenses.
She netted $750, spending some of it last week on rain boots when it became clear that Tropical Storm Isaac was bearing down on the Florida panhandle. “I don’t know how good they’ll look with the suit,” said St. Louis event planner.
Coil supported Romney during the 2008 GOP primary, but with so many friends and family members in the military she said she increasingly agreed with the Texas congressman’s opposition to foreign wars that can be declared with the casual “flick “of a presidential pen.
And Paul’s position on the economy—tying the value of a dollar to a metal such as gold in order to curb inflation and auditing the Federal Reserve—transformed her into an advocate for the lawmaker who will be the subject of a tribute video at the convention.