When the balloons drop on President Barack Obama and on presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the end of their respective party conventions later this summer, several Frederick County residents will be there to see history made.
The Republican Party will hold its convention in Tampa, Fla., from Aug. 27-30 to officially nominate Romney, while the Democrats will gather in Charlotte, N.C., from Sept. 4-6 to nominate Obama for a second term.
Robert Kresslein will be attending his seventh Democratic convention, but his first as a delegate.
The conventions are a chance to make connections that can be used later, Kresslein said.
He met then-Prince George’s County Executive Parris Glendening on a bus ride to the Atlanta, Ga., convention in 1988, and ended up organizing Glendening’s campaign in Frederick County when he ran for governor in 1994.
Over the years, you are able to see political careers develop, and where the party is headed on a state and national level, he said.
“It really is a nice way of kind of gauging where the leadership is going in the next few years,” Kresslein said.
Attending every convention since 1988 has given him a firsthand view of some historic moments, such as Jesse Jackson’s moving speech in 1988, Al and Tipper Gore’s famous kiss at the 2000 convention and an emotional speech by an ailing Ted Kennedy in 2008 in Denver, Colo.
Although Kresslein wasn’t in the convention hall in Boston in 2004 for the speech that marked Obama’s emergence as a national political figure, he remembers the effect the speech had on the several hundred people he was with nearby.
“The silence in the room was amazing,” Kresslein said.
Catching a rising star is also on the GOP’s mind this year, where there’s a lot of energy and excitement about Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, according to state Del. Michael Hough (R-Dist. 3B) of Brunswick, who will be attending the Republican convention as a Romney delegate. This will be the first convention Hough has attended.
After the party’s disheartening defeat in the 2008 presidential election, the GOP has added a number of exciting new faces who will be speaking at the convention, he said.
Hough said he is looking forward to hearing two of those newcomers, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, speak at the convention.
He had predicted Romney would select Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell — whose state is expected to factor heavily in which candidate will win in November — as his vice-presidential candidate. But he praised Ryan’s selection as a “very bold” pick that would work in Romney’s favor.
Ryan has outlined a dramatic budget proposal that has drawn criticism from Democrats for its sharp cuts to social programs, but Hough said Ryan’s presence on the ticket will allow Republicans to draw a contrast between the two campaigns on the importance of fiscal responsibility and government spending.
State Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Dist. 4A) of Middletown, who also will be attending her first convention, was equally enthusiastic about the addition of Ryan on the ticket. Afzali is also a Romney delegate.
She said she’ll be bringing her 16-year-old daughter along to Tampa, so that she can experience a historic event that only comes along every four years.
Afzali said she thinks Ryan can help unite various sections of the party and people who voted for candidates other than Romney during the primaries, such as Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul.
The most important goal of the convention is to make sure the party is united as it heads into the heart of the election season, and give a jolt to the delegates who will go back and help fire up their communities, Afzali said.
Party unity and message is also high on the priority list for Myrna Whitworth, chairwoman of the Frederick County Democratic State Central Committee, who will be going to Charlotte as a delegate for Obama.
The president has to energize the party and set the message for the rest of the campaign, she said.
Along with Obama’s speech, Whitworth said she will be excited to hear speeches by first lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton.
Whitworth went to the Democratic convention in 1988 as a producer for the Voice of America news service, but has never attended one otherwise.
She said she’s looking forward to being on the convention floor rather than stuck in a skybox as she was when she was working at the convention.
“I’m just looking forward to being a part of it,” she said.
Maryland presidential convention delegates were elected in the state’s April primary election, with most pledged to support a particular candidate. Democratic Party rules also require that’s each state’s delegation have equal numbers of men and women.