REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION Valley delegates look to listen, learn in Tampa

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By David Skolnick


Columbiana County GOP Chairman Dave Johnson, attending his seventh Republican National Convention, calls it the “Super Bowl of politics.”

Johnson of Salem is among about 500 members of the Ohio delegation attending the RNC in Tampa, which gets into full swing Tuesday and ends Thursday. In comparison, the Ohio delegation to the 2008 convention was about 300, according to the state’s Republican Party.

There hasn’t been much drama or action at either the Republican or Democratic conventions since 1988 when Republican presidential nominee George H.W. Bush, elected that year, chose then-little-known U.S. Sen. Dan Quayle as his vice-presidential running mate.

Saturday’s decision by convention organizers to briefly convene today and then recess until Tuesday afternoon because of Tropical Storm Isaac is probably the biggest news to come out of a convention — in this case, before it started — since that 1988 Quayle selection. The storm is expected to have passed Tampa on Tuesday.

“It’s a little bit weird to get on a plane flying” toward a tropical storm, said Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Mark Munroe, an alternate delegate. “Everything suggests the worst weather will be” today.

The delegates were to have an official roll-call vote today to make Mitt Romney the party’s presidential nominee and Paul Ryan its vice presidential nominee. Because of the delay, that vote will be pushed to Tuesday.

Even with the cancelation of today’s events, Johnson, a delegate, is still excited by the convention.

“It’s an opportunity to hear the party’s platform on domestic and foreign affairs and social issues,” he said. “I think it’s very important. It’s a chance to listen to and learn from the leaders of our party.”

While Johnson has served as a delegate or alternate delegate to every Republican convention since 1988, some newbies are attending the event.

Among them is Tracey Winbush of Youngstown, a state central committeewoman.

“I’ve watched it on TV, but I’ve never been to a convention,” she said. “I have no idea what to expect. This is a great year to go. I’m adamantly opposed to the [President Barack Obama] administration. I want to see change, and I want to be part of making Mitt Romney the next president. It’s going to be interesting.”

And kind of expensive.

Ohio Republicans will be staying at Tampa’s Mainsail Suites Hotel, where rooms cost about $200 a night. There’s also airfare, about $300 or so, as well as a $500 convention fee.

The Ohio GOP delegation will get free breakfasts, typically with a guest speaker, and evening events are catered.

“I know it’s expensive, but I’ve been told that I’m going to have a good time,” Winbush said.

Also attending the RNC for the first time is U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th. His congressional district covers all or portions of 12 counties, including all of Columbiana County and southern Mahoning County.

“We have a lot of excitement surrounding Paul Ryan being named to the ticket,” Johnson said. “I can’t think of a better person to be on the ticket. The convention will be about the fiscal issues facing Americans and what it will take to put us back on the right track.”

What is Johnson expecting at the convention?

“This is the God’s honest truth, I really don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I’m there to listen and learn. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a big deal.”

Munroe is attending his second convention. He was a delegate for John McCain in 2008.

“We’ll hear from an all-star lineup of Republican and conservative voices,” Munroe said. “It will be fun and memorable. There will be plenty of excitement.”

This is the fourth consecutive convention for Craig Bonar of Cortland, a delegate and former Trumbull County Republican Party chairman.

“I look forward to meeting people you don’t normally see except on TV,” Bonar said.

At the 2004 convention, Bonar said he first met Rob Portman in an elevator. At the time, Portman was a U.S. House member. He would become U.S. trade representative in 2005 and then director of management and budget for then-President George W. Bush. He’s been a U.S. senator since January 2011, and was mentioned frequently as a potential vice presidential running mate for Romney before he selected Ryan.

“The convention is an opportunity to meet people and hopefully convince the hard-heads to compromise and make some common sense moves to work together” with Democrats, Bonar said.

Ohio is playing an important role in the presidential election as a key swing state.

The importance of Ohio isn’t lost on organizers of the Republican National Convention. Gov. John Kasich has a prime-time spot Tuesday. Portman will address the convention on Wednesday.

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