Locals say political conventions still have value

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With Election 2012 kicking into high gear, RNC, DNC spark interest

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
Some pundits will tell you that the day of political party conventions meaning much of anything has passed — they’re little more than pre-packaged “pep rallies” for the respective parties and candidates. But if you ask two Chester County residents — both freshly back from their party’s convention — the role may have changed, but the two conventions serve an important purpose.

I can’t lie; I love politics. I enjoy writing about it and I even enjoyed some aspects of my time as a candidate, campaign manager and local party leader, but those stories are best told over a cold one. But I also know a lot of people hate politics, hate politicians and so on, which I wish wasn’t true. I know from personal experience how much people give up in terms of time, money and opportunity to run for office and how much abuse (even from folks like me) one must take in doing so. Very few involved are really bad people, and neither party has a monopoly on them.

For me, as a kid growing up, and later as a political writer and reporter, the conventions were always a highlight for me, full of drama, but I know now, people aren’t as plugged in as they used to be.

And while a generation ago, the parties used to gather to pick their nominees, now the events serve a different, but still valuable purpose: communicating with voters and firing up party members for the fall campaign, and serving as something of the kickoff of the fall campaign season.

“There was no mystery at either convention,” said Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, who served as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week. “It was more of an effort by the Republican Party to let people know who Mitt Romney is, let them know who Paul Ryan is.”

Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone, who served a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, said she agreed that the conventions now have evolved into a new role.

“It is a valuable opportunity to spend quality time getting your message out, not just to the delegates, but to the people at home, watching on TV,” she said, Friday, as she returned home from this week’s convention.

Whether you support Republican Mitt Romney or Democratic President Barack Obama — or fall somewhere in the middle — the two events, back-to-back offer an opportunity to get both parties’ messages and take stock of both candidates with just two months to go before Election Day — and maybe, both Cozzone and Welsh suggested, get a bit beyond the 30-second sound bites.

“The issues are very complicated for this election,” Welsh said, adding that she thinks both parties focused on economic issues, and rightly so, under the current situation.

Obviously, both elected officials admitted to being biased toward their parties’ candidate — but both watched the entire convention of both parties and both found moments that were praise-worthy of the other’s party, especially the speeches of First Lady Michelle Obama and Ann Romney.

In terms of their personal experience, both too related similar experiences when it came to the endless run of breakfast meetings (with the GOP PA delegation hearing from the likes John Sununu and Gov. Chris Christie, while Democrats heard from Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and former Pa. Gov. Ed Rendell, among many, many others) and very tight security, but Cozzone, staying in the same Charlotte hotel as Vice President Joe Biden had to work around sudden building closures when ever he came or went.

Cozzone said she lamented the changes in security over the last decade or so that meant, despite staying in the same hotel, there were few if any sightings of the Vice President, who ironically, who hails from just minutes outside of Chester County and has been a frequent visitor here over the years.

“It is a bit of a sad commentary,” she noted, but said she understood the need for security in this post 9/11 era, and that it was only much of delay once, when the Secret Service closed roads at one point to protect a motorcade.

Not surprisingly, as a county sheriff (and board member of the National Association of Sheriffs), Welsh said she took particular interest in the security arrangements in Tampa and came away impressed — especially with the work of the various agencies that worked together, municipal, county, state and federal to keep everyone safe.

Both also say they agree that whether or not you think Pennsylvania is play — the polls have Obama up by about 8 points of late — Chester County is definitely up for grabs. Obama won the county in 2008, but was the first Democrat to win since Lyndon Johnson did in 1964. Although the registration gap has closed some, Republicans still hold a majority and have a hammer lock on county-wide elected positions. They still have a better county party get out the vote (GOTV) operation — which is somewhat mitigated by the Obama forces using their own GOTV operation instead of the county party.

Still, though with a large number of educated and moderate Republicans — many Chester County GOP members are pro-choice, which puts them a bit out of step with the party mainstream — Chester County could prove to a litmus test of sorts for the November race, having a large number of moderate, persuadable voters.

While it appears likely that Obama will win the state, should he prevail in Chester County again, it is highly likely, from my point of view, that he’ll do pretty well in places such as Ohio, Virginia and Florida. If not, it could signal a long night for Democrats.

And maybe just as important, how the race at the top of the ticket goes has a major impact on the races down ballot, from U.S. Congress seats to the state legislature. In 2008, when Obama won the county, three state house seats went to Democrats. In 2010, when there was something of a GOP wave nationally, all three flipped back to the Republican Party. With a handful of seats in the county in serious play, as many as five state house seats could change hands if Democrats can turn out their vote. Conversely, if Romney wins the county, it all but assures the Democrats will be shut out.

So while some might feel like the state is a foregone conclusion — and not everyone even agrees with that — you can bet that with so much at stake, the next two months will be hard-fought right here on the ground, even as the echoes from Tampa and Charlotte fade.

* * *

Condolences to the family of Birmingham Township Supervisor Al Bush, who died Aug. 28. Bush served on the Board of Supervisors for 25 years and was dedicated to the township. The township is accepting donations to pay for a monument to be placed in Sandy Hallow Park in his memory.

The township is also looking for volunteers to replace him on the Board of Supervisors.

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