St. Paul, Minn. — The Minnesota delegation is headed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is co-chairing President Bush's re-election campaign in the state. At a send-off rally for delegates at the State Fair, Pawlenty said the convention is an opportunity for the president to highlight the accomplishments of his first term.
"At the top of the list is he's the strong, clear leader in the war on terror," Pawlenty said. "And if you ask people what's on their mind, they want to know that we've got the best possible leader for our safety and security in place, and he's it."
Many other delegates cite homeland security as one of their top concerns. They said they're glad the national convention is in New York because of its connection to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Delegate Kimani Jefferson of Coon Rapids said Sept. 11 was a political turning point for him.
"I thanked God that President Bush was in office," Jefferson said.
Ironically, Jefferson didn't vote for Bush in 2000. He voted for Democrat Al Gore. Jefferson grew up in Louisiana, in a strongly Democratic family. But while serving in the military overseas, Jefferson said he began re-evaluating his views.
"I just started figuring out that the values of the Democratic Party ... weren't exactly jiving with mine," Jefferson said. "And that dealt with abortion, it dealt with interpretations of the Constitution, it dealt with taxation."
Jefferson first voted Republican in 2002, and now co-chairs President Bush's re-election campaign in Anoka County. He's one of three African-Americans attending the convention from Minnesota. Minorities make up about 15 percent of the state's delegation, close to the percentage of minority delegates at the convention overall. GOP officials say it's the most diverse convention in party history. When Democrats gathered in Boston last month, minorities made up about a third of convention delegates.
Minnesota's delegation also includes many veterans -- nearly a quarter of the delegation -- and young people. About 15 percent are under the age of 35.
Justin Krych, 26, of Duluth is attending his second national convention. Krych considers himself both a fiscal and a social conservative.
"Not everybody within the Republican Party is as conservative as I am," Krych said. "I have always voted for Republican candidates and have voted in every election since I turned age 18."
Krych said he's not a fan of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a moderate Republican who will address the convention Monday night. Krych said he disagrees with McCain on campaign finance reform, abortion, and other issues. On the other hand, Krych has complete confidence in President Bush, and said that confidence has grown during the president's term as Bush has dealt with terrorism and the war in Iraq.
Delegates said the highlight of the week will be nominating Bush for a second term. State Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) is the only legislator in the delegation. She said she wanted to be a delegate for the first time to show her support for the president.
"The next four years are very important, and I think we need to support President Bush and make sure that he is reelected," said Fischbach. "Because it's really a turning point for our country. We really need to make sure that he is there to see us through for the next four years."
Fischbach said she thinks issues such as abortion, gay marriage and taxes will determine the presidential race. Fischbach is the social conservatives chair for the Bush campaign in Minnesota. Fischbach attended previous conventions when her husband was a delegate, and said the Minnesota delegation will benefit from the state's status as a battleground state.
Among the younger delegates is University of Minnesota student Melissa Graner. She's keeping a blog on behalf of the Minnesota GOP. She's also planning to participate in charitable work while in New York. On Tuesday, the group is planning to paint a day care center.
They're staying at a posh hotel, relatively close to the convention site, unlike some previous conventions, when delegates were a one-hour bus ride away. They'll be visited by top Republican officials, and the best perk of all, a great spot on the floor of the convention. The Minnesota delegation sits near Florida and Ohio.