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GOP is ready to 'rally around Sen. McCain'

ST. PAUL -- The Xcel Energy Center is ready for the Republican National Convention, but no more so than Minnesota's Republican delegates are ready. No major, and few minor, disputes are expected in what Republicans hope to be a well-organized and...

ST. PAUL -- The Xcel Energy Center is ready for the Republican National Convention, but no more so than Minnesota's Republican delegates are ready.

No major, and few minor, disputes are expected in what Republicans hope to be a well-organized and smooth-running gathering naming John McCain as their presidential nominee.

"There has been a little bit of dissention here and there," delegate Jennifer Wilson, Hermantown, Minn., said. "Everybody is not on the same page, but once this convention is over, I think you will see us get on the same page and rally around McCain."

An estimated 45,000 GOP delegates, lobbyists, media and others are headed to the Twin Cities for Minnesota's second-ever national convention.

Nearly 2,400 delegates Wednesday are scheduled to formally back McCain, and on Thursday night the 72-year-old Arizona senator is to accept the nomination.


Planned speakers include President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday night. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman each are to speak twice.

But convention organizers, the White House and McCain's campaign all were watching the Gulf of Mexico, ready to change their plans if storm Gustav hits land. Any of the top speakers may decide to skip a speech if it would not look politically wise when the Gulf Coast was under siege.

The president and chief executive officer of the convention said the event will go on, but contingency plans are ready.

"The convention will start and end at the time we gave you," Maria Cino said.

Finishing touches continue inside the "X" in downtown St. Paul, but work mostly was finished by Thursday.

Red carpet and folding chairs for delegates (except for 50 who must sit in the stands) are in place. So is a huge television -- actually composed of 561 individual screens -- behind a simple podium.

The stage is 4 feet above the convention floor, designed so when McCain accepts the nomination he is close to looking eye-to-eye with delegates instead of looking down on them like from elaborate, sky-high stages at most conventions.

More than 500 workers have worked inside the "X" for 18 months to convert the hockey arena and adjoining RiverCenter into the headquarters of the Republican universe for four days beginning Monday.


All of that work is secondary to the pride Minnesota Republican delegates feel about their national convention.

"It is going to be pretty exciting to have my first convention as one in my home state, said Bethany Dorobiala, Woodbury, Minn., the state's College Republican president.

Convention planning started nearly two years ago when the Republican Party awarded the Twin Cities the convention.

"Although, it is quite a big production, I think it is worthwhile," Dorobiala said, especially in giving McCain's campaign a big boost.

She said McCain is the right choice for Republicans.

"He is known as a maverick but is rooted in conservative values," Dorobiala said. "It is going to be a fantastic time to be able to kick off the campaign."

Richard Koch, Jackson, Minn., said he is a conservative and is glad to be a delegate.

"I really want to represent the congressional district and state at this major event that is coming to this state," Koch said.


"The important part for me is to experience as much as I can what is happening there," Koch said.

McCain is conservative on key issues, he said, such as his desire to appoint conservative judges, his dislike of federal spending earmarks and upholding the right to bear arms.

Wilson agreed that McCain is a conservative, even though some extreme right-wingers question his credentials.

"I do see that he has, by in large, a more conservative record on issues in alignment with the party," she said. "One of the issues that is very important to me is that we get judges on the Supreme Court that definitely are strict constructionists."

McCain also has far more experience than Democratic candidate Barack Obama, she added.

"When it comes down to the two candidates, when we look at somebody for president, we want to look at the experience of the man," Wilson said. "One of the things you learn is that you have life experiences. Life experiences really do mature a person."

Like Democrats in the past few days, one of the most important things to come out of the GOP convention will be a cohesive party.

"It will help to energize us and solidify our party more," Wilson said.


The minor drama at the Democratic convention in Denver over whether Hillary Clinton delegates would revolt likely will not be repeated in St. Paul.

There is no doubt about the main event, McCain's nomination. But delegates, alternates and other Republicans can chose from hundreds of events to attend -- from serious discussions about national security to simply fun parties.

There will be 2,380 delegates and 2,227 alternates on hand for a convention. But there are other numbers that tell the story, too:

- Volunteers: 10,000

- People Xcel Energy Center can seat: 20,000

- Media covering the convention: 15,000

- Hotel rooms booked: 16,000

While St. Paul's Xcel center will host the major convention gathering each late afternoon and night Monday through Thursday, other meetings are planned for around the Twin Cities.


Besides daily morning meetings of the state delegation, Minnesota delegates plan to do things such as volunteer at the Union Gospel Mission, attend a reception with the Arizona delegation, attend a "summer soiree" with Minnesota credit unions, take a paddleboat cruise on the St. Croix River, go to an agriculture-related party and wrap the event up at the Baja Sol fiesta.

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