By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Tampa’s been hit by more than hurricane winds.
The Gulf Coast Florida city, home to this week’s Republican National Convention and the coronation of the GOP’s presidential ticket, is bearing witness to the Cheddarhead invasion.
Wisconsin in many ways is taking center stage at this convention, first and foremost due to the Badger State’s 1st District Congressman and Mitt Romney running mate Paul Ryan. A packed Janesville Craig High School held a hero’s send-off for their Republican native son Monday morning, as Ryan prepared for his date with history.
Gov. Scott Walker, who to many conservatives has become a paragon of fiscal responsibility, is slated to speak at the convention between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Kenosha’s own Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman, is the ring master for this GOP political pageant.
And it seems Wisconsin delegates, about 80 of them, are getting the royal treatment from the RNC.
Like Milwaukee Brewers broadcast legend Bob Uecker used to say in Miller Lite commercials, Wisconsin delegates “must be in the front row.” Unlike with Uek, this time it’s true.
Because of the state’s would-be VP, Wisconsin joins Massachusetts – home to presumptive GOP presidential nominee and former Governor Romney – and Michigan at the front of the convention floor.
“It’s amazing. We are getting so much attention,” said Yash Wadhwa of Glendale, one of Wisconsin’s alternative delegates to the convention. “I was in a cab with an older couple from Mississippi. They asked me where I was from. I told them and they got so excited.”
Much of the excitement Monday involved Hurricane Isaac, bearing down on the Gulf but seemingly sweeping by Tampa.
Because of the threat of severe weather, Priebus was forced to call the convention to order briefly Monday, take care of some quick business and quickly recess the GOP meeting.
Wadhwa said despite some heavy winds and a little rain, Isaac was making little noise in Tampa. Forecasters were more worried about other Gulf-front locales, including hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.
Walker, in a late-morning phone conference from Tampa, said the RNC’s chief concern was the safety of convention-goers and Gulf Coast residents.
The governor, expected to tell his Wisconsin story about the contentious collective-bargaining reforms and budget measures, is part of a packed lineup of speakers Tuesday night. Conservative heavyweights such as House Speaker John Boehner, R-Michigan, former U.S. Sen. and Romney presidential nominee challenger Rick Santorum, and potential First Lady Ann Romney will join nearly two dozen speakers, with speeches truncated to fit everybody in.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the night’s keynote speaker.
Oh, then there is that bit of business, mostly perfunctory, involving the GOP nomination of the president and vice president.
It’s a busier-than-expected convention, thanks to Isaac.
Walker said the GOP will just have to roll up its sleeves.
“We’ll make it work,” he said. “We’re Republicans. We fix things. We’ll fix this, too.”
Wadhwa is scheduled to speak Wednesday, the same day Ryan closes out the day with his convention address.
Wadhwa, 65, says he has an American Dream story to tell.
He was a young man when he left his native India for the United States in 1969 with “about $5 in my pocket and a dream in my heart.”
He went to school in New York and in 1979 moved to Milwaukee, where he launched an engineering consulting firm.
Wadhwa said he was so inspired by Ronald Reagan that he became an American citizen. In 1984, the Indian-American voted for the first time, for Reagan’s re-election – the last time a Republican presidential candidate won Wisconsin.
Wadhwa said he’s “overly confident” the team of Romney-Ryan can bring the Badger State back to the Republican column.
The latest polls put that assertion within reach. Last week, the Marquette Law School Poll found the race within the margin of error, and a Public Policy Polling survey indicated Romney edging President Obama by a percentage point.
Art Cyr, political scientist and director of the A.W. Clausen Center for World Business at Carthage College in Kenosha, is underwhelmed.
He’s been studying politics longer than Paul Ryan’s been alive, and he understands the pageantry involved with conventions.
Still, Cyr noted Wisconsin’s importance as among a handful of states in play in this election, and the need for Republicans to enerigize its base at a convention that will dominate the 24-hour news cycle.
“It can and in this case, must more than usual, mobilize that conservative base,” he said. “Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan have to convince people in Sarah Palin country, in Michele Bachman country and Mike Huckabee country that this is a conservative enough choice.” Cyr added Republican and Democratic conventions alike appeal much more to the emotional than the rational.
Perhaps. But for delegates like Wadhwa, there is the pure excitement of a first-time convention-goer paired with a significant sense of duty.
“Just want the good old America back,” he said.
Contact Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org