By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Colene and Russell Johnson of Santa Rosa will spend this week in Florida, staying at a resort on the sugar-white sand of St. Pete Beach.
But they and about 750 other Californians making the same trip will have scant time for strolling the beach ranked No. 1 by Travelers’ Choice this year or dipping into the Gulf of Mexico’s clear, 84-degree water — even if tropical storm cooperates by moving to the west.
Their energy and interest will be focused on an upscale hockey arena 30 miles away in Tampa, site of the 40th Republican National Convention at the 670,000-square-foot Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The Johnsons and the rest of the California delegation, joining a flock of more than 4,400 GOP delegates and alternates, will bask not in the sun but in the rhetoric of some three dozen convention speakers, including Republican luminaries like Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Nikki Haley of South Carolina, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Isaac also will intrude on their time in the Sunshine State — it already has forced a postponement of the first day of convention business — but one thing is virtually certain: Mitt Romney will close the four-day convention Thursday night with his acceptance speech as the Republican presidential nominee.
“There’s no question he has the nomination,” said alternate delegate Russell Johnson, 62, a retired Hewlett-Packard engineer who runs a venture capital firm.
“I think you could put money on it,” said delegate Pat Krueger of St. Helena, who ran unsuccessfully for the state Assembly seat representing Santa Rosa in 2004.
There might be a ripple of support for Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas libertarian and three-time presidential candidate, but far too small to keep Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan from securing the nominations by delegate vote on Monday, local delegates said.
Political conventions since the 1980s have been tightly scripted events, deliberately lacking in drama and meant to catapult the nominees into the fall campaign.
But that doesn’t stem the enthusiasm of the Republican faithful heading for Tampa.
“I think the wind is at Mitt Romney’s back,” said Krueger, 70, a winery executive who grew up a Democrat but converted to the GOP during Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s.
“The case we’re making to the American people is for change,” said alternate delegate Kurt Hahn of Healdsburg.
Hahn, 74, a longtime Healdsburg city administrator and now chairman of Healdsburg’s hospital district board, said he backed Romney from the start of the tortuous Republican quest for a front-runner.
“He did a good job as governor of Massachusetts and a great job with the Olympics,” Hahn said.
Russell Johnson sounded what might strike some Republicans as heresy by describing Romney as a “moderate,” defining him as “somebody who knows how to make a deal.”
Appealing to the far right may pay off in the primaries, but Johnson said the race to November is governed by pragmatism.
“You’re trying to appeal to a wide enough slate of people to get elected,” he said.
Indeed, delegate Sally Zelikovsky of San Rafael, a leader of the 1,800-member Bay Area tea party group, said the vast majority of the arch-conservative faction is “absolutely united behind the (Romney-Ryan) ticket.”
Tea party adherents were once “all over the place” on their choice of president, said Zelikovsky, 51, a homemaker and former Democrat who said she gradually lost affinity for the party. “People have really come to like Mitt Romney,” she said. “They’ve had a chance to get to know him.”
Johnson, an alternate delegate, is agreeably playing second fiddle to his wife, Colene, 63, one of six North Bay delegates who will be seated among California’s 172 delegates on the convention floor.
He and Hahn will be seated separately among the state’s 169 alternates, on the main floor but behind the podium.
Krueger, who was a delegate at the 1996 Republican convention in San Diego, said she’s looking forward to meeting friends from her years in New Hampshire as a state legislator and host to politicos who trooped to the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation primary.
Political conventions, packed with floor speeches and social events, are “a wonderful experience,” said Krueger, who is taking her husband, Ortwin, along as a guest.
Delegates pay their own way, she noted.
When they’re not at the convention, California delegates will have a series of diversions at the TradeWinds Resort on St. Pete Beach, including a Monday breakfast with Gov. Christie and fellow delegate Meg Whitman, the Hewlett-Packard CEO who lost the 2010 governor’s race to Jerry Brown.
They and convention officials have their eyes on tropical storm Isaac, which could become a hurricane by Monday.It is not expected to hit Tampa directly, though the storm conditions will cause problems.
“I’m expecting it will rain the entire time,” Colene Johnson said.
Hahn, who bought a lightweight suit to cope with Florida’s heat and humidity, said he’ll also pick up a plastic raincoat on the way.
Political conventions now just candidates’ coronations
Once upon a time, presidential nominating conventions were gripping theater.
In 1924, hooded Ku Klux Klan members burned crosses at a rally in New Jersey during the Democratic National Convention at the Madison Square Garden in New York City Time. It took a record 103 ballots to name a candidate in that convention, marred by conflict over the Klan’s influence.
In 1968, rioting triggered by Vietnam war protests and racial tension broke out at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, with television cameras rolling.
This year, the TV networks are giving the Republican and Democratic conventions each a mere three hours of coverage. On Monday, CBS will air a rerun of “Hawaii Five-O” during what was supposed to be Ann Romney’s speech on opening night of GOP convention in Tampa. The party countered by moving the speech to Tuesday, when coverage is planned.
Party bosses — determined to avoid brawling like 1968 or even an intra-party skirmish like 1980 (when Ted Kennedy tried to lure delegates from President Jimmy Carter) — have sucked the drama out of the conventions.
Deal-making in smoky rooms and convention-floor revolts have been replaced by the primary election system in which delegates are bound to vote according to the primary results.
Conventions are now like watching a baseball game when you already know the score, said Brian Sobel, a Petaluma political consultant.
The multi-day meetings, with a parade of speakers before a pre-selected audience of delegates in a secure convention hall, are “choreographed to the second, with nothing left to chance,” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political science.
Instead of anything resembling news or entertainment, the conventions are prolonged political commercials, Sobel said.
The goal now is to give each ticket a “bounce” in approval ratings going into the fall campaign. The bounce amounts to about 5 points in the polls, McCuan said.
And it fades fast, Sobel said.
“Seven to 10 days, (the approval ratings) will slide back — that’s historical,” he said.
NBC will air a new episode of “Grimm,” about a homicide detective who battles supernatural forces, on Monday night.
Three delegates to the Republican National Convention were selected by Mitt Romney’s campaign from each California congressional district. Representing the 5th Congressional District are:
Colene Johnson, 63, Santa Rosa
Pat Krueger, 70, St. Helena
Janet Kirtlink, 71, Napa
Alternate delegates: Russell Johnson, Kim Graves, David Gaw
Representing the 2nd Congressional District are:
Sally Zelikovsky, 51, San Rafael
Kevin Krick, 42, Fairfax
Sashi McEntee, 38, Mill Valley
Alternate delegates: Kurt Hahn, Matthew Eshoo, Marie Derr
FOUR DAYS IN FLORIDA
The 40th Republican National Convention runs from Monday-Thursday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
California’s delegation numbers about 750, including 172 delegates, 169 alternate delegates, guests and sponsors.
Fifty states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories are sending 2,286 delegates and 2,125 alternates, with about 15,000 media representatives registered to cover the event.
Delegates will vote by roll call on Monday to nominate the presidential and vice presidential candidates.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will deliver the keynote address Tuesday night.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the presumed vice presidential nominee, is Wednesday night’s closing speaker.
Mitt Romney’s speech wraps the convention Thursday night.
(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)