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Dateline: TAMPA, Fla.
An Insider’s Report from the Republican National Convention
This August, I was fortunate enough to take a trip to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., through the Bliss Institute and my Campaign Battleground class at the University of Akron.
From the start, the trip was an interesting one. It kicked off Tuesday morning with my confrontation of my rather strong fear of flying and taking two relatively short flights (though they felt pretty long to me) to arrive in Sarasota. After taking the lengthy drive from our hotel in Bradenton to the Tampa area, you could feel the excitement around the area.
The political buzz started on the route in, with signs for every candidate — whether they were national or local — adorning the billboards along the interstate. Heading into the convention as an undecided voter who formally sided with Ron Paul, I was unsure what to expect from my experience.
While in Tampa, we spent a great deal of time among the Ohio Republican Party. We participated in a fundraising event at an aquarium featuring Mitt Romney’s son Matt, a quasi-rally for Ohio Supreme Court Justices up for re-election featuring Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett and Political Strategist Karl Rove, and a National Journal brunch involving several big names in news media and politics. We were even invited to an event from the Foreign Policy Initiative where the topic was American presence overseas, and the speaker was former governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to attend the convention itself because the St. Pete Times Forum was surrounded by a mile-wide secure perimeter patrolled by sheriffs from various Florida counties, state troopers and the National Guard. It was slightly disappointing but not a huge issue. Watching the events on PBS at the hotel with some good people I met while on the trip proved to be a very lively and entertaining alternative.
In conclusion, the trip turned out to be an extremely fun and interesting one. I survived my flights, met some interesting, famous and influential people and ate a lot of free food courtesy of the Ohio Republican Party. I heard a lot of speakers I agreed with, and an equal amount of speakers with whom I didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye.
I left the convention with a wealth of knowledge on the stances of the Republican Party, which will certainly help when it comes time to make my decision in November. I appreciate the experience provided to me by the university and the Ohio Republican Party, and I feel it was an event I will remember for the rest of my life.
/ Jacob Altman is a junior political science major at The University of Akron. He hails from Brunswick.
Dateline: CHARLOTTE, N.C.
An Insider’s Report from the Democratic National Convention
by Ian Schwarber
In 2008 I watched President Obama give a soaring speech from a packed Invesco Field in Denver and decided when he ran for re-election in 2012, I would be there with him at his convention to add my energy to history. Thanks to the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, at the University of Akron, I went to Charlotte with 20 other students, and our experience was complicated as well as life-changing.
First, we learned that the president wouldn’t be speaking from the Bank of America Stadium on Thursday night, the only event our delegation had assured tickets. Now that he was coming inside to avoid a possible thunderstorm, our entry was revoked, along with much of our promised access from the Ohio Democratic Party. We made the most of it.
On Wednesday my fiancée Mackenzie Justice, her mother Mary Catherine Justice, a few other determined friends and I attended the Ohio Delegation breakfast, and after hearing speakers Senator Sherrod Brown and Organizing for America Director Jim Messina, we attended the reception at the Hilton.
That night, we met political journalists Anderson Cooper, David Corn and my cable news hero Lawrence O’Donnell, as well as Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and Senator Charles Schumer. Wandering the epicenter of Charlotte-turned-“MSNBC-wonderland” was a left-leaning political junkie paradise!
Thanks to our good and loyal friend, Rep. Bob Hagan, we received two tickets into the hall that night, when Bill Clinton would deliver what many have called the finest speech of his life. The young man in our group who knew Hagan would use one ticket, but the second was a toss-up.
Now, Mary Catherine is a lifelong Democrat, and although she loves her family, she likely adores Bill Clinton more. The group resoundingly agreed that the second ticket was hers, and with a tear in her eye, she said, “What am I supposed to wear?” And then off she went to see one of the most powerful, impactful speeches a lover of liberalism would ever witness.
The next day I met famous types from Eva Longoria to Chris Matthews, Al Sharpton to Michael Steele; that’s quite a mix of individuals, and they were all so cool. But even better was meeting the random believers who haven’t yet had their brush with fame; people like us who just felt the need to represent. Everyone was kind and willing to shake your hand, look you in the eye, and remind each other that we were all here to take part in a symbol to our nation.
At this convention, when tens of thousands who had made the journey to spend one hour with the president got short-changed, we stayed strong, assembled and lifted our collective soul for the country.
We went to Charlotte with an itinerary and created our own. We traveled home with pictures on our phones, inspiration on our minds and smiles on our faces. The energy at that convention means more than any debates, advertising and punditry. It was a revival, and November is when this party will get behind and re-elect President Barack Obama, a commander who will lead this nation out of stagnation.
/ Ian Schwarber is a senior at The University of Akron, majoring in political science and minoring in homeland security and philosophy of religions. He plans to get his master’s and JD from the Bliss Institute starting next fall.