A view from the outside
What was it like at the RNC (Republican National Convention) outside the Excel Energy Center, from September 1st - 4th? In spite of a subdued tone on the opening day of the convention as a result of Hurricane Gustuv, there was a lot of action and business was not as usual in downtown St. Paul.
Dusting off my reporter's hat from years gone by, I decided to become a part of Minnesota history and investigate the RNC from different angles. I might not get this opportunity anytime soon since the last Republican National Convention occurred in Minnesota (Minneapolis) 116 years ago, in 1882. Like this year's endorsed presidential candidate John McCain, Benjamin Harrison was not present for his party's convention either. While 1,800 delegates and alternates and 10,000 spectators attended the RNC's tenth national convention in 1882 at the Minneapolis Industrial Exposition Building, about 45,000 delegates, alternates, guests, VIPs and media attended this year's thirty-ninth convention.
The same week as the RNC, third party presidential candidate Ron Paul delegates held a convention heavily orchestrated by former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. Security was tight with 3,700 officers on horses, bikes, motorcycles, in boats, helicopters, squad cars and by foot. Due to roadblocks and alternate routes, people were mainly walking or being bussed.
Demonstrators, protestors and activists were everywhere around the perimeter of the Excel Center. While there were anti-war demonstrators reminiscent of the Viet Nam War era, there were also "Support our Troops" posters. Banners and T-shirts reflected the nominees: vote for the maverick and the reformer, McCain and Palin. The demonstrators advocated for many themes of current presidential campaigns: the economy, war, abortion vs. right to life, health care and the energy crisis.
Many restaurants had either been rented or closed for private events, while others seemed sparsely inhabited. One restaurant's marquee was even changed to the CNN Grill and was being used by the cable news staff.
Local folks I talked with hoped that St. Paul's economy would benefit as much as predicted by hosting the RNC. Twin Cities hotels were designated as headquarters for different state GOP delegate groups. Minneapolis got a piece of the convention attention by hosting Civic Fest, an event celebrating Minnesota and American History, Democracy and the U.S. Presidency.
While major television networks were set up inside the RNC, a gigantic CNBC stage was located adjacent to the Excel Center, with reporters interviewing celebrities and politicians including former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber.
I attended a book signing by Meghan McCain for her newly released book entitled "My Dad, John McCain." Over one hundred people attended, including media and autograph seekers. The only local media I encountered from our area was a reporter from Fargo's KRJB Radio Station. Next time I attend a major event or watch its television coverage, I will remember the images are much different on the outside.