PHILADELPHIA – Former U.S. Sen. Bill Brock has been attending political conventions since 1964. He has seen unity and confidence in the Republican Party, and he has seen divisiveness and squabbling. A high point for Brock was the 1980 convention, when the GOP nominated Ronald Reagan for president.
For Brock, the just-ended Republican National Convention 2000 has been like a repeat of 1980.
“I haven’t felt like this in 20 years,” Brock said, adding that the GOP has “put aside the little things” which divide it and is focusing on its very real chance of getting George W. Bush elected president.
Those statements that were echoed almost unanimously by members of an upbeat Maryland delegation to the national convention.
“This was a home run by the Republican Party,” said Michael Steele, the state party’s first vice chairman.
Steele said the Maryland delegation has been “pumped and excited” throughout the convention, making network television on Monday night as delegaton members held hands and swayed during the National Anthem.
“Folks are tasting a win, and they like it,” he said. Steele said that four years ago, Republicans tried hard to convince themselves that they had a fighting shot to win. In 2000, they know they do.
“Of the three conventions I’ve attended, this one was heads and shoulders above the rest,” he said. “There is a sense of genuine excitement.”
Harford County Executive Jim Harkins called this convention “premiere.”
“I’ve never seen one so unified and energetic over a candidate,” he said. “There is a universal feeling that we’re doing the Lord’s work.”
Frederick County State’s Attorney Scott Rolle remembers the divisiveness in the party from the 1996 Republican convention in San Diego. Although Bob Dole was a terrific American hero, he said, the delegates “had the underlying sense that we were battling uphill.”
Political commentator Haynes Johnson said the Republican Party has been convinced since the beginning of the year it could win the White House if it had a unified front. The plan was to avoid an appearance of divisiveness or to remind people about the aggressiveness the Republicans displayed against President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he said.
“They did not want to have the face of the impeaching Republicans for the public,” Johnson said.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, lauded Sen. John McCain, in particular, for the role he played in unifying a party that was seriously fractured during the primaries. He also noted that the party’s unity benefited from the relative silence of divisive figures.
“The party has grown and matured to the level where we understand that others can think differently and it is OK,” he said.
The image of unity is not accidental: Party aides acknowledged that delegates were schooled in what to say to the media about the convention and urged to stress messages of cohesion and optimism. While the national media has largely portrayed the convention as dull and scripted, some of the delegates said the fact that everything ran so smoothly made the experience more enjoyable for them.
“I think the winners of this convention are George W. Bush, Laura Bush and the city of Philadelphia and not necessarily in that order,” said Jean Cryor, a delegate from Montgomery County. “Philadelphia has done such a great job from the way they handled the protesters to the bus service. It’s a great, clean city.”
Despite all the positive feelings and promising polls for Bush, Maryland delegates still have to face the fact that they are in a heavily Democratic state. But the GOP has been making gains in recent years and Maryland National Committeeman Dick Taylor said he expects that to trend to continue as more people move to the state.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “We’ll turn the state around in the next 10 years, but hopefully it will happen sooner.”