Clinton woman helps start GOP convention

For a die-hard political junkie like Clinton’s Mary Jane Aurdal, going to her party’s national convention is hard to beat.

This week, Aurdal is in St. Paul, Minn. as the Island County Republican delegate to help crown nominee Sen. John McCain as the GOP’s choice to lead the nation for the next four years.

Not to mention accepting the party’s first-ever female vice-presidential nominee, Alaska

Gov. Sarah Palin.

Representing the 2nd Congressional District, Aurdal and Linda Sturza of Camano Island were elected delegate and alternate. Aurdal said the opportunity to attend the convention is a big honor.

Exciting, too.

“Fellow delegates and folks across the nation are absolutely thrilled with the McCain-Palin ticket,” she said. “I’ve personally had calls and e-mails from all over Washington telling me that she’s a wonderful choice, and if they were not enchanted with

Sen. McCain as the Republican presidential candidate before, they are 100 percent behind him now.”

First storm hits

During the weekend, Hurricane Gustav dominated the news as it headed straight for the New Orleans area — still recovering from 2005’s devastating Hurricane Katrina — and the GOP did some radical rethinking. Party leaders decided to overhaul the convention in an effort to avoid images of Republicans celebrating and engaging in political gamesmanship during a natural disaster.

Monday, on the recommendation of McCain, the party announced substantial changes to the program, and the convention became a call for help with Hurricane Gustav relief efforts.

Even so, there’s an aura of excitement and anticipation that surrounds a national convention; it’s contagious and draws you in, Aurdal said. The days begin by 7:30 a.m. with delegation breakfasts, then a little free time. There are luncheons with interesting speakers and special events sponsored by many organizations.

The convention convened by 2:30 p.m. on Monday.

“We were advised the session would deal strictly with business: electing a permanent chair, adopting rules and the national platform,” Aurdal said. “We had heard that, because of Gustav, a program that included Laura Bush would not happen.

“However, we were thrilled to not only have a personal appearance by the current first lady but our next first lady, Cindy McCain, as well. The applause was deafening! Both focused on relief efforts for the gulf states, and encouraged us to spread the word on donating financial help. We are proud of how our party has reacted to this disaster.”

Sen. McCain’s campaign offered to provide transportation for delegates from the affected states to return home if they wished. Aurdal said that nobody accepted the offer, saying that their families were handling the storm just fine. Because of the hurricane, the evening session was canceled.

Controversy erupts

Another storm struck Monday for Republicans, however: it was announced that Gov. Palin’s 17-year-old unwed daughter, Bristol, was five months pregnant.

Palin has opposed sex education for teens. The Palin family said Bristol planned to have the baby and would be marrying the father, a fellow high school student.

Aurdal said her fellow delegates are taking the news in stride.

“Nobody that I know is condemning anyone, much less wanting Gov. Palin removed as a candidate,” she said. “I’m sure the family would have preferred their daughter was married first but, as my mom used to say, the first one can come any time. After that, it takes nine months.”

Aurdal said Palin is a courageous young woman, the same age as her eldest daughter, and she applauds the governor’s stand against abortion and human flesh farms for stem cell research.

There are other things she admires about the Washington, D.C. outsider.

“As a gun owner myself, I admire her expertise in shooting, killing and dressing an animal,” Aurdal said. “Besides self-defense, that’s what guns are for — providing food for the table.

“But she’s not just an avid sportswoman; she’s a businesswoman, successful mayor and governor of a great state and the Alaskans love her. I called her ‘courageous’ because she’s not afraid to challenge members of her own party and has cleaned up several messes caused by her predecessors.

“This is the change we’ve been waiting for,” she said.

Aurdal added that the Palins are an American family, no different from anyone else going through difficult times.

As for one of the main topics in this year’s election, Aurdal said McCain plans to end the war in Iraq, despite Democratic claims.

“Not next year, or even the year after perhaps, but our troops will definitely be home after our victory there,” she said.

A dangerous place

While traveling to the convention by bus Monday from their hotel in Minneapolis, delegates inadvertently put themselves in harm’s way.

“The anarchists are at work here,” Aurdal said. “Apparently they dogged the Democrats in Denver as well. Today while we were being transported from our hotel in Minneapolis to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, there was a group that managed to infiltrate past security atop an overpass on the highway. As our bus passed underneath, they dropped 50-pound bags of sand ,and one of them struck right in the middle of the bus. It sounded like an explosion over my head.

“We pulled to the side of the road and the police officers popped the hatch from inside to gain access to the top where they removed the debris and we continued on to the convention.”

Aurdal was told by security that several thousand radical anarchists fought with police, and at least 90 had been arrested after confrontations outside the convention hall.

Beyond politics

It isn’t all politics this week for delegates in St. Paul.

“There’ll be lots of receptions to honor veterans, Republicans for Environmental Protection, Microsoft executives, luncheon at the famous Rossi’s Steakhouse and more,” she explained.

Aurdal has been invited to a private screening of the new film, “An American Carol,” about an anti-American filmmaker played by Kelsey Grammar who’s out to abolish the Fourth of July holiday when he’s visited by three ghosts who try to change his perception of the country.

During free time over the weekend, delegates went to the Mall of America in Bloomington and visited the Nicolette Mall in Minneapolis.

“These adventures are not for the fainthearted; we walked and walked and walked,” Aurdal recalled.

On Tuesday, the delegation from Washington went on a luncheon riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River before the convention’s business resumed.

Tonight, she’s back at work. The featured Republican speakers include Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal, Cindy McCain and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

On Thursday, McCain will accept his party’s nomination and present his vision for the next four years.

Aurdal will be in the hall somewhere, cheering her heart out.

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