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Convention Battles Gone, But Drama Remains
By Michael Khoo
July 31, 2000
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The Republican National Convention has begun in Philadelphia. The gathering will culminate Thursday night with the formal endorsement of Texas Governor George W. Bush as the GOP's presidential nominee. Although the party's major decisions have been made in advance of the convention, Minnesota's delegation say there's still reason to be excited.

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ST. PAUL MAYOR Norm Coleman says this is the year for the Minnesota Republicans. Independent polls show among Minnesota voters, Governor Bush is in a statistical dead heat with the presumptive Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore. Coleman is the state chair of the Bush campaign. And he says in a state that hasn't backed a Republican since Richard Nixon, Bush's close showing is cause for celebration among the state's delegation to the national convention.

"We're more fired up; we're more engaged; we're more energized. We've got a dog in this fight, you know? We've got a chance for the first time since 1972 to carry Minnesota for a Republican candidate. And again we've got a candidate who can be - who's competitive - he'll be competitive in rural Minnesota because he understands those issues. As well as for the first time be competitive in some of the urban centers," Coleman said.

While Bush's showing in the upper midwest may have electrified the Minnesota delegation, the lack of any real suspense during the week's proceedings may be dampening enthusiasm outside the GOP camp. Republican Senator Rod Grams will address the convention later today during the event's opening session. But he concedes there's a missing element of drama.

"Well, you know, I think a lot of the tough decisions that conventions used to make have already been made. I think George Bush is going to overwhelmingly be endorsed as our candidate. And so I think this convention is a way to spotlight or highlight the Republican agenda and the things we want to accomplish. So, to me, it's going to be a little bit of theater but a lot of information," Grams said.

Marcel Bujarski is a delegate from Hibbing. He says as a teenager in the 1950s, he knew a different breed of political conventions and a different attitude among the public.

"I realize that attendance or watching the convention may have gone down in recent years, but I think the country is worse off for that. Golly, I can remember as a kid sitting in front of the radio and listening to it. It was something that you needed to do. You took time off from the farming to listen to the convention," Bujarski recalled.

Bujarski says he still expects a few hot issues to emerge during the Republican gathering. As an abortion opponent, he says he's concerned other attendees may try to remove abortion-related language from the platform. Judie Rosendahl of Madison is also in Philadelphia this week. She says she doesn't anticipate any divisive floor debates. And she says internal bickering can drive the public away as easily as the lack of suspense.

"There are battles. There have been battles in the past. Then the people don't like that either. You know? But for me, it's just because I like to see - I like to go from the grassroots level all the way up to the top in the conventions and so on. Because I learn from it and I'll learn more and I'll learn things to bring back to my people here in the Second District," Rosendahl said.

The real drama, then, may be outside the main event, where competing activists and protesters are clamoring for attention. Coleman says he hopes they don't steal the show.

"Conventions become a magnet for those people who want to be in front of a camera, who want to make trouble. And that's a challenge. That's a challenge. I really hope and pray that we come out of these conventions with both parties having a chance to articulate their message. And you don't let the idiots and you don't let the rabble-rousers and you don't let others take away from that."

But as political theater, the sideshows could be tough competition for the main event.