Mass. Delegates Front And Center At GOP Convention

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The Republican National Convention begins in Tampa on Tuesday, a day delayed by Tropical Storm Isaac. On Tuesday, delegates will nominate presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and this year, the Massachusetts delegation finds itself literally front and center on the convention hall floor.

Getting To Know Mitt

The Massachusetts delegates know Romney best, and they are eager for other Republicans, and the rest of the country, to see Romney the way they seem him. Rep. Elizabeth Poirier said like other Massachusetts delegates, she's getting a lot of questions about Romney.

"People think it's amazing that we actually know him and have spoken to him and discussed issues with him," Poirier said. "One of the things I so remember about him when he was governor was that when he would come into a room with us to discuss an issue, it wasn't the staff that explained the detail, it was Mitt Romney."

But the Massachusetts delegates also see this convention as the vehicle for revealing all aspects of Romney's life, including the story of his wife's struggle with multiple sclerosis. Rep. Brad Jones hopes the glimpse at Romney's personal side starts Tuesday, with Ann Romney's speech.

"Ann has talked about Mitt's reaction when she was diagnosed, but I think that needs to be amplified," Jones said. "The sons and the relationship and the things Mitt has done off-camera, if you will, that may be a better way to judge somebody. What does somebody do when the camera's not rolling? Yeah, he's a political wonk, but he does get it, he does care."

Prime-Time For Mass. Delegates

In the past, the small Massachusetts Republican delegation has been treated as a curiosity. They represent a liberal part of the country in a party dominated by Southern conservatives. At breakfast Monday, Romney adviser Beth Myers, who was in charge of helping him select a running mate, seemed as surprised as the rest of the Massachusetts delegates at the VIP treatment they are getting in Tampa.

"And you got a good hotel location this time," she said to the laughter of a delegation used to hotels in outer suburbs. "I was just out at a couple of other delegations for smaller states, and it took about half an hour to get back here, and I thought, that's where Massachusetts has been in past conventions."

This year, Massachusetts has the best seats at the convention, right in front of the podium. It's traditional for the delegates from the nominee's home state to be there. But one honor Massachusetts will not likely get: Traditionally, the nominee's home state votes out of order to give him enough delegates to clinch the nomination. Jones says it looks like that won't happen.

"I was led to believe that they were going to go straight through alphabetically," Jones said.

How To Satisfy Ron Paul Supporters?

Not everyone in the Massachusetts delegation is a longtime Romney supporter. Romney won the Massachusetts primary handily, but Texas Rep. Ron Paul came in second. This delegation reflects that.

Among the Paul supporters is Evan Kenney, from Wakefield. In the Monday party of blue blazers, Kenney was the guy in the T-shirt. He's just graduated from high school. He got involved in politics because a conservative teacher motivated him.

"He taught me to question authority, and do so with logic and reason, even if it was him," Kenney said. "We were supposed to question him, too."

Even though Kenney was for Paul, he says he's happy to honor his pledge to vote for Romney on the first ballot Tuesday. But he also hopes that what the country will see on television this week is a party open to differences of opinion.

"I hope they're going to see a Republican Party that's willing to welcome newcomers, that's willing to welcome ideological diversity into the big tent, and I think that's where they're going to get the youth vote, is if they open up the big tent," Kenney said.

As for the disruption caused by the storm, Ron Kaufman, one of Romney's top advisers, is relieved that Isaac has passed Tampa by. He told the Massachusetts delegates Monday they need not worry that the storm might dampen the convention.

"The good news is the hurricane is no longer a hurricane," Kaufman said. "It's somewhere going toward Texas. Good place for it."

The tropical storm, which forecasters say may turn into a hurricane, is not headed for Texas. No delegates from Texas were present to hear Kaufman's remarks.

Kaufman, who first introduced Romney to much of the Washington Republican establishment, promised the Massachusetts delegates "a hell of a convention."

This program aired on August 28, 2012.

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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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