About 280 Tennesseans — elected officials, delegates, alternate delegates and guests — are in Tampa this week as Republicans elevate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to the top of their ticket.
It was a mix of old political hands and fresh faces Tuesday at the Republican National Convention, where Volunteer State delegates unanimously nominated Romney and Ryan, assisted political surrogates and did everything they could to sell a conservative message to a national audience.
“This is the most exciting day for me — the meat and potatoes,” said Emily Beaty, a marketing director from Cleveland, Tenn., and one of the state’s 58 delegates. “I’m really part of picking the president and vice president. It’s an amazing thing.”
A delegate in 2008, Beaty actually has more national convention experience than her congressman, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who called his time in Tampa “outstanding so far.”
Like many House freshmen, Fleischmann isn’t a delegate and doesn’t have an official speaking role, so he considers himself “a salesman for Chattanooga,” the largest city in the congressional district he represents. At a Tennessee delegation breakfast Monday, he spoke alongside fellow Chattanoogan U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. Later he addressed 100 young adults painting signs for the convention floor.
Known at the convention as “pages,” the young people listened as Fleischmann harkened back to 1980, relating his college days of volunteering for President Ronald Reagan at the University of Illinois. He described that election and this year’s as “change” elections, praising the pages for their civic involvement.
“They even made an ‘I love Chuck’ sign,” Fleischmann said. “They seemed very excited that a member of Congress would come and talk with them.”
Oscar Brock is one of the old hands. The longtime party insider and Lookout Mountain developer served as a delegate in 1988, 2004 and 2008, but he gave up his spot this year, choosing to coordinate 19 volunteers whose duties involve scheduling and shuttling elected officials to CNN, CNBC and other media outlets on scene.
Hurricane Isaac might have stalled Monday’s official convention activities, Brock said, but that meant more airtime for his staff to fill.
“Their hunger for content hasn’t diminished much,” Brock said of the media. “The news shows say, ‘We need a sitting governor on set at 2 o’clock,’ and we handle the logistics.”
Brock said his crew has worked with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, all considered rising stars in GOP circles.
“We’re meeting some great people,” Brock said. “It’s fun to be one of the 2,200 delegates screaming and shouting on the floor, but it’s really interesting to get behind the curtain and see how the operation works.”
A heavily scripted operation doesn’t mean a lack of surprises. Former state Rep. Bobby Wood, of Harrison, is a first-time delegate this year, and he originally intended to vote for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the GOP nomination.
But Wood said a surprise Tennessee delegation visit from two of Romney’s sons — Ben and Craig — made him feel better about supporting the former Massachusetts governor in the end.
“They kind of gave us a picture of Romney as a father and a family man,” Wood said. “I think that got me a little bit better acquainted and comfortable with him.
“Really, it’s a pep rally we’re here for,” Wood continued. “I hope we get to know him better as a candidate and as a person.”
Tennessee Republicans with prominent convention roles include Gov. Bill Haslam, the leader of the Tennessee delegation and statewide campaign chairman for Romney; and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, co-chairwoman of the party’s platform committee.
Beaty, the delegate from Cleveland, said platform and policy matters excite her most. But she mentioned another fun adventure — lingering near Abraham Lincoln impersonators and Texans dressed like cowboys.
“It helps you get on television to be near those people,” she joked.