Penn student reports from the RNC

September 4, 2008 9:50:20 PM PDT
Editor's note: The following is a contribution from a University of Pennsylvania student, attending the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Tuesday seems to be the day that the media grow interested in the activities of our class. After we attended the afternoon session of panels at the Humphrey Institute (which included moderating from Annenberg's Kathleen Hall Jamieson as well as the Mann and Ornstein duo!) we made our way into St. Paul to see how the full-blown Republican National Convention looked.

Before we made our way into the Xcel Center, we went over to the MSNBC outdoor stage to see how the set-up compared to the one in Denver. The stage is only one story (compared with the double-decker set in Denver) and the dozen or so trailers that were set-up in Denver were replaced with about three - this might allude somewhat to the amount of coverage the RNC is receiving on this network. However, the setting of the set is picturesque and is much more accessible for street viewing than the one in Denver.

While viewing the MSNBC festivities, we were approached by Sarah Bloomquist of WPVI Philadelphia. Ms. Bloomquist interviewed us and talked with s for almost twenty minutes, and by the end, we were drawing quite a crowd. Once the camera was shut off, the spectators were asking us who we were! I always feel as though we are disappointing them when we say we are only students.

Clearly this interview attracted the attention of other members of the media. As soon as the WPVI team had vacated the area, an Asian News Network (Voices of America) approached and proceeded to interview us. After the interview, they asked if it would be possible to shadow us to observe our class discussions. More details on that tomorrow (if it works out....)

After the interviews we began making our way into the Xcel Center. Today, we entered through a different entrance, but one that was just as populated with security. I would like to be in the situation room for the convention to comprehend why the security presence is so noticeably enhanced to what it was in Denver. In any event, despite the increased efficiency of getting into the center as compared with Denver, I was still able to smuggle in my umbrella (two for two!) Perhaps it had something to do with my bonding with the security agent who was from Abington, Pennsylvania. (On a slight side note, it is worth remarking that much of the security stationed around the city has been brought in from around the country. While this seems like a nice idea, these transplants are not helpful with directions and are somewhat frustrating for out-of-town guests!)

Entering the center it felt as though it was going to be rather crowded. As this was the first "real" night of the convention, I expected the crowd to rival that of the Pepsi Center in Denver. However, once I was off of the ground level, the center both felt and appeared empty. I was easily able to "sneak" into a section right in front of the stage (I use sneak loosely as there was not any usher even checking credentials in front of most sections?this compared with the militaristic checking of credentials at the DNC)

Once in my seat, the crowd and mood within the crowd was much different than in Denver. The Democratic crowd was energized and excited. They stood up every time any of the speakers alluded to change. The stadium was packed every night. Here, the crowd is much more subdued and their applauding almost feels forced. There were empty seats in every section, with some sections entirely empty. At first, I was left scratching my head as to how Senator McCain is polling almost evenly with Senator Obama.

Then the Republicans starting doing what they do best. They did not preach a party platform, and except for a few digs at Senator Obama's tax plan and unabashed use of his family for political gain, the Republicans were rarely partisan. Rather, they were striving to make the audience feel proud to be Americans. As much as Democrats try, the Republicans seem to have a monopoly on patriotism. From video montages honoring American history to a pledge of allegiance recited by the entire center, an international onlooker would never guess that this was a rally for a single party as opposed to the country. All of this was done to invoke the sentiment that Senator Lieberman said best, "I'm here to support John McCain whose country matters more than party."

That being said, Senator Lieberman also set-up what I believe will be the theme for the rest of the convention: John McCain and Sarah Palin are both mavericks. Two things I am on the lookout for on the next two nights: more people (!) and how the Republicans, who have a reputation for playing dirty, attack Senator Obama. At the moment, it feels as though the Republicans are merely going through motions of holding a convention. Perhaps Wednesday and Thursday's headliners will energize the convention - although I doubt Senator McCain could come close to the 75,000-person turnout Senator Obama received last Thursday. In the end, however, it is votes and not inspiration that count. I look forward to watching the Republicans make their case in the last two days...


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