US elections 2008

Page last updated at 05:38 GMT, Thursday, 4 September 2008 06:38 UK

Republican Convention diary

Max Deveson, Mike Bayham and Jennifer Copestake

Republican Party delegate Mike Bayham joins the BBC's Max Deveson and Jennifer Copestake to report on the drama, tension and razzmatazz of this week's Republican Convention.


4 September: 0010 local time (0510 GMT)

After a solemn first day out of deference to Gulf Coast states taking a battering from Hurricane Gustav, the Republican National Convention reverted to its traditional form as a gathering of partisan speakers and party activists, serving large helpings of rhetorical red meat from a litany of well-known Republicans and former presidential candidates.

But it was perhaps done most effectively by a formerly unknown executive from a far-away state, whose family's personal business has been aired by gossip rags and mainstream media alike.

Governor Sarah Palin, with her thick Alaskan accent, laid out the case for her and John McCain's election this November while showing some of the aggressiveness of a competition-driven "hockey mom".

Wearing the pin of an active serviceman's mother on her collar, Mrs Palin beamed with pride about her son and nephew's current service in the military and worked in a few shots at the Democratic presidential nominee's past gaffe about small town folks whose frustrations with life cause them to cling to guns and Bibles.

Mrs Palin, and fellow local government leader Rudy Giuliani who preceded the Alaskan governor, laid out the case for how municipal leadership is excellent preparation for the nation's highest executive position.

She made a brief reference to the media-driven brouhaha that has erupted over her unwed teenage daughter's pregnancy, while also highlighting other aspects of her and her husband's hobbies and professional experience.

She gave a near flawless speech and fired up the party base. Few delegates have expressed any reservations about the prospect of her daughter becoming a teenage mother

Many clearly feel that it only further reinforces her commitment to opposing abortion. Others consider it proof that Mrs Palin knows first-hand how regular families live, and that she is not isolated from reality.

None of the enthusiasm for the McCain-Palin ticket seems diminished in the slightest by the so-called scandal.

This Louisiana delegate was hoping McCain would pick Palin as early as June, feeling the need for McCain to increase his cred on "change" and even more so after Obama watered-down his position as the leading advocate for a different style of leadership in Washington by picking a career Beltway politician as his running mate.

My fear was that McCain would go with Romney, a man of many positions on the same issues (and even more houses!).

Perhaps concern for McCain's running mate among conservatives is greater because of his age and the likelihood of sitting vice-presidents succeeding their bosses as party nominee in the future.

By just tapping Palin as his running mate, McCain set forth a new course for the party away from the usual suspects and ensuring that even if the Republican ticket loses this Fall, that Palin will remain a national figure and will automatically become the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 2012.

Palin's well-received speech tonight further ensured it.

When the state roll call was completed at 2336 local time, McCain was declared the nominee with 2,372 delegate votes. Two votes were cast for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and three for Texas Congressman Ron Paul.


3 September: 2300 local time (0400 GMT)

Tonight, a succession of high-profile Republicans tore into Barack Obama, mocking his experience, attacking his policies, and painting him as a "cosmopolitan" elitist, with no understanding of small-town America.

The delegates loved it.

Mitt Romney tickled them, Mike Huckabee stirred them, Rudy Giuliani rabble-roused them, and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin managed a mixture of all three.

She got by far the warmest reception of the convention so far.

"I thought she did a phenomenal job," Georgia delegate Randy Evans told me.

"She was genuine and authentic and - with her attacks on Obama - proved that she's tough enough to play in this game."

There were references to foreign policy in the speech (Mr Evans revealed that Mrs Palin's message of support for the people of Georgia "confused half of his fellow delegates") as well as an introduction to her family and a passage about the importance of drilling for oil in America.

Oh, and a number of digs at the media.

At one stage, she asserted that "if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified".

This led to an explosion of boos from the crowd, who began pointing and jeering at a group of journalists sat to the right of the stage.

When I asked one of them, CNN's Candy Crowley, how it had felt to be the target of such opprobrium, she was phlegmatic.

"It's happened many times before," she told me. "George Bush did it, Bob Dole did it - we're just props to them."

If the media are indeed just "props", then Sarah Palin knows how to use us.

Her speech was very well-delivered, confounding any liberals who may have been hoping for her inexperience to show (although I did notice that the word "nuclear" was spelt "new-clear" for her on the teleprompter).

Televised debates and one-on-one press interviews will be different challenges for her, but if she keeps delivering speeches like this, then the doubts about Mr McCain's choice of running-mate will begin to disappear.


3 September: 1500 local time (2000 GMT)

Last week at the Democratic convention in Denver, I attended a discussion panel which featured several senior Obama advisors, in an attempt to find out what kind of foreign policy a President Obama might pursue.

So it seemed like a good idea to attend a similar panel this week at the Republican convention, to get a sense of what John McCain's foreign policy might look like.

Present were two men who had been high up on Mr McCain's shortlist of potential running-mates: Senator Joe Lieberman and Ohio Congressman Ron Portman, as well as Ambassador Richard Williamson and Bud McFarlane, former National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan.

At the Democratic event last week, there had been much criticism of what the speakers described as John McCain's fiery, impulsive temperament and praise for what they saw as Barack Obama's more thoughtful and open approach to decision-making.

Interestingly, today's panel seemed to agree with the Democrats' characterisation of John McCain, but couched it in much more positive terms.

So while the Democrats accused Mr McCain of not listening to advice, Ambassador Williams said that "giving foreign policy advice to John McCain was like giving golf advice to Tiger Woods".

And while the Obama supporters accused Mr McCain of acting on hunches, today Rob Portman praised what he called "John McCain's incredible record of intuition in foreign affairs".

So the two parties appear to agree on the nature of Mr McCain's character - they just rate it in different ways.

At one point Mr Lieberman was asked whether he - and Mr McCain - agreed with running mate Sarah Palin's recent call for an "exit plan" in Iraq, a position seemingly at odds with the McCain position.

Mr Lieberman managed to deflect the curveball, by saying that an exit plan was fine, as long as no timetable for troop withdrawal is set in stone.

Mr McCain and his advisers can expect more questions about Mrs Palin's foreign policy positions in the coming weeks, because - as Alaska's governor - she has expressed very few opinions about the world beyond America's borders.


3 September: 1300 local time (1800 GMT)

Typically the climax of every national party convention is the final night when the nominee delivers his acceptance speech. That is not the case at this convention.

America knows John McCain and his life story well from his two campaigns for president and his profile in the US Senate between his White House bids.

But when Alaska Governor Sarah Palin addresses the convention tonight, it will mark the first opportunity for Mr McCain's surprise pick for running mate to introduce herself to the American public.

Since being tapped as the Republican Party's first female candidate for vice-president, it has been her family's personal background and not her record as former mayor, maverick politician or governor that has dominated the news.

Mrs Palin's admission that her unwed teenage daughter is pregnant began to overshadow the convention just as the previous distraction of Hurricane Gustav had dissipated, allowing the Republican conclave to return to the jubilant partisan celebration a convention should be.

With the NFL season kicking off during McCain's acceptance speech tomorrow, this is the Republican convention's last chance to attract the American viewing audience.

Tonight is when Sarah Palin will either prove the genius of Mr McCain's bold running-mate move or that the Republican nominee took too big of a gamble.


Mike Bayham is a Republican delegate from the state of Louisiana. He is chairman of the New Orleans Young Republicans and has served on the Louisiana Republican State Committee since 1996. He's pledged to back John McCain for the party's presidential nomination, though he personally supported Mike Huckabee in the primaries. "I guess you could call me a Reagan Conservative," he says. "I believe the party should stand by its social conservative base, while also reaching out to new voters. The GOP is known for being too stuffy - I think it needs to be a Big Tent."

At the age of 34, this is already Mike's fourth convention. "On the floor of the convention, if you are a delegate, you are officially on the same par as congressmen, governors and wealthy power brokers. Among the people I have met at previous conventions are a future president (George W. Bush in 1996), Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani," he says. "I can't imagine any other country having a political event like this."

Max Deveson, 30, is the BBC News website's Washington reporter. He joined the BBC in 2001 to work as a political analyst in Westminster, later moving to the online world news team. He has an obsessive interest in the US and its politics and was particularly excited to land an interview with Ted Kennedy on his first assignment in Washington this year. When not obsessing about US politics, Max enjoys attempting to play Iron and Wine songs on the guitar.

Jennifer Copestake, 25, is an online video producer for World News America. She's been with the programme since its first broadcast in October 2007. After the conventions she'll be video-blogging from a BBC election bus on a 38-day road trip across the country. Jennifer was born in Canada and has reported for the CBC, the Hill Times, the Observer and More 4 News. She's been in Washington since early summer, but will return one day to London, where she lives with her fiance and two cats.

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