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.
“As someone who is 26 and will have money in the economy for a long time, I’m one of those people who will be affected the most,” Coil said.
Proposals for the party platform like establishing a commission to consider a return to the gold standard tell her that most Republicans agree on the policies, even if there were sharp differences during the primary about which candidate would be best to challenge Obama.
“We’re united on the issues, but not united behind the candidate,” she said. “What that tells me is there is a lot of misrepresentation when it comes to the Ron Paul platform.”
Hometown Pride for Paul Ryan
First-time delegate Jonathan Steitz hails from vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s district in Wisconsin. A tax policy advisor for the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based free market think tank, he believes Romney’s accomplishments at Bain Capital and Ryan’s record on Capitol Hill will give the GOP ticket an edge.
“We’re at a real crossroads. We’re going to pass on a huge debt to my kids,” said Steitz, a Romney delegate. “The Romney-Ryan ticket is based on big ideas and sweeping changes.”
Steitz wasn’t surprised to hear that Romney picked his congressman for vice president, although others like Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty were thought to be at the top of the short list. Multiple polls released last week show that Wisconsin has become a toss-up because of Ryan.
“Paul talks about what everyone else is afraid to talk about and I think it’s great to have someone willing to tackle the tough issues,” he said.
With party chairman Reince Priebus, the former head of the Wisconsin GOP, also at the center of the week’s proceedings, Seitz plans to live tweet the event for those at home.
“It’s a great time to be a conservative from Wisconsin!” Steitz said.
The Buckeye State’s Political Up-and-Comer
Clarence Mingo II acknowledges that Romney lacks practical experience in foreign policy and national defense – two issues of extreme importance to the Ohioan, a former Army infantryman who saw action in the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
But the Romney delegate believes that – just as President Obama managed to do – the former Massachusetts governor will prove to be a quick study as commander in chief.
“Romney will inherit extremely wise individuals at the Pentagon, smart military planners who will be able to give him the best advice possible,” Mingo said. “And I know he has the ability to make difficult decisions. He has done it in an economic circumstance and I’m confident that the same fortitude will transfer over on matters of foreign policy and military operations.”
A 40 year-old African-American lawyer with a wife and two young children, Mingo was appointed Franklin County Auditor in 2009, making him responsible for overseeing county finances, real estate and consumer protection in the Columbus-area.
Amid the uproar over Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about abortions, rape and pregnancy, Romney has distanced himself from Akin and has asked him to drop out of the race. Romney said he would make an exception in the case of a threat to the mother’s life or rape – a view that differs from that of Mingo, who would only make an exception to save the mother’s life.
“I think that it’s very important that we as Americans hold fast to our convictions but also respect and appreciate the beliefs of others,” he said. “We may not share the same philosophical beliefs, but at the end of the day we are Americans and owe it to each other to respect the values and opinions of others. And sometimes I wonder how well we are doing as a nation in that regard.”
The Granite State Libertarian
Paul Mirski, a 69 year-old resident of Enfield, NH, has spent 12 years as a state representative. He is passionate about limiting government and making sure President Obama doesn’t see a second term.
“This is without a doubt, a pivotal election. If Republicans don’t win this election, it’s over,” Mirski said. “We will either remain a country with a market-based economy or we will slip into socialism. If you’re voting for Obama, you’re voting for your own demise.”
Having pledged his support for Ron Paul, he supports bringing back the gold standard and eliminating the Federal Reserve. Though Romney wasn’t his first choice, Mirski said choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate has strengthened the ticket.
“Ryan is a great asset. He’s the only person willing to address the financial problems,” Mirski said. “Romney’s kind of the manager…he’s not the most flamboyant or attractive, but they make a good team.”
Not surprisingly, the most important issue to him is whittling down government spending in the hope that the power of the private sector can be unleashed.
“Small businesses won’t be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel until we see a stabilized tax policy,” Mirski said. “And we can’t afford four more years of inactivity-the government has always been inefficient, but it’s worse now.”
Colorado Tea Party Activist
Fed up with Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, or in her words “pork-ulus,” Nancy McKiernan joined what was then the nascent Tea Party movement. As a delegate for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, she describes her politics as “pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-family.”
“Obama and his Marxist, communist roots and the fact that we would elect someone with his ideology caused me to be pretty concerned,” McKiernan told The Fiscal Times. “Before that, I thought voting Republican was enough.”
McKiernan, who is unmarried, originally moved to Colorado 25 years ago for her job as an IT and database administrator. For the past three years, she has been a “full-time activist”—volunteering on state and national campaigns, in addition to starting the website Tea Party Brewing http://www.teapartybrewing.com/.
At the Tampa convention, McKiernan hopes to raise more awareness about taxes and state rights. In her ideal world, states would fund the government on a per capita basis and the 17th amendment—direct election of senators—would be repealed.
“Some of what I would like to see discussed are problems with the federal income tax,” she said. “I think we should get rid of it.”