Frieda Wallison: Conventional wisdom |

Frieda Wallison: Conventional wisdom

Frieda Wallison
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

MINNEAPOLIS ” Following flights from Aspen and Denver (where we picked up a band of national reporters and their entourages who were traveling directly from the Democratic National Convention to the Republican National Convention), my husband, Peter, and I arrived in downtown Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon.

I am a member of the Colorado delegation to the Republican National Convention, and my husband has been working with John McCain’s campaign since the dark days of last summer, both as a surrogate for McCain, speaking at events around the country on the candidate’s behalf, and as an advisor on economic matters. Given the seeming hopelessness of the McCain campaign 14 months ago, we could never have imagined that we would be in Minneapolis to participate in McCain’s official nomination as the Republican nominee for president of the United States.

Peter and I are staying at the Hilton Hotel, which is in the center of the downtown area of Minneapolis, where a number of the convention-related events are taking place. The convention itself will be held at the Xcel Center, several miles away in St. Paul, and there will be shuttle buses to take us there and to other events. Last night, the bus driver asked us where we lived, which led to a lively conversation about skiing, his many ski visits to Snowmass (which he enjoyed), his condo at Snowbird in Utah and what he referred to as “yo-yo skiing” in Minnesota, where the hills are not very big and skiers have to go up and down constantly.

When we arrived mid-afternoon, the downtown was quiet, but it came to life as the day progressed and party officials, delegates, the media and other participants arrived in force. Although noticeable, the police presence did not seem overwhelming. Some of the police were on bicycles, which reminded me of our own police in the Roaring Fork Valley. Seems to be a good way to get around, even in the big cities. There was a lone protester on the corner outside our hotel, but otherwise it did not look like the police had much work to do.

The first official event was a reception yesterday for delegates, alternate delegates and their guests at the Minneapolis Convention Center (not to be confused with the Xcel Center), put together by the Twin Cities Host Committee. The Minneapolis Convention Center is a behemoth of a place, probably the equivalent of several football fields in size, the kind of place that would be really good for car shows and other sales events.

The host committee had filled the place with an enormous exhibit called CivicFest, a real slice of Americana. There were pre-20th century American flags with different designs for the field of stars, an expression of creativity that is no longer possible; a display featuring the early presidents of the Continental Congress, with someone who brought a lawsuit in federal court to have these gentlemen officially recognized as presidents of the United States explaining his efforts; campaign memorabilia from past elections, and an appraiser strategically stationed to provide free appraisals of your own campaign memorabilia in “Antiques Roadshow” fashion; a chance to have one’s picture taken with Harriet, the live bald eagle from the National Eagle Center in Wisconsin; an exhibit by National Park Service rangers from the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, headquartered in downtown St. Paul, who share responsibility with other organizations and private landowners for more than 70 miles of riverfront area along the Mississippi River, the waterway dividing Minneapolis and St. Paul; and many other interesting displays, including the essential Minnesota sports teams exhibit.

So far the informal talk of the convention has centered primarily on Sarah Palin and Hurricane Gustav. There is real excitement among the delegates about McCain’s choice of running mate, but to a great extent, Hurricane Gustav has for the time being captured much of the convention-goers’ attention and concern. Because of the hurricane, the convention program Monday was severely cut back ” to about two hours from the planned seven-hour event. President Bush and the first lady were both scheduled to speak Monday evening, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Those speeches were not going to take place Monday, and we’re not sure what to expect in the coming days. John and Cindy McCain and Palin are on the Gulf Coast, and McCain has set the tone for the convention by saying that out of concern for the people along the Gulf Coast, the convention celebrations can and should wait. Many of the parties that were scheduled have been turned into fundraising events for victims of Hurricane Gustav.

The convention planners, who put in so many months of preparation, are approaching the program on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis as we all wait to see how Mother Nature will affect events on the Gulf Coast. This is a political convention like no other.

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