At the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, the Chicago-themed party was the hottest ticket in town. Cohosted by then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the fiery congressman who is now mayor of Chicago, and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the packed blowout at an open-air Irish bar featured deep-dish Chicago pizza, a performance by Chicago comedy troupe Second City, and a special appearance by Michelle Obama.
That event was in keeping with a long-standing tradition at national political conventions: The nominee’s home-state delegation throws the biggest bash.
That’s put the small band of Massachusetts delegates in Tampa in an awkward position: Their former governor, Mitt Romney, is the nominee, but the delegation, from the deep blue Bay State, has always been at the bottom of the GOP cool-kid pecking order.
“Traditionally, we weren’t taken seriously—we haven’t had a lot of clout at these events,” said Massachusetts Republican state Sen. Robert Hedlund.
And for now, the Massachusetts delegation has no major parties planned. Instead, the biggest fete of the week is expected to be Wednesday’s “Beer and Brats” party thrown by the delegates from Wisconsin, home state of vice presidential nominee and conservative favorite Paul Ryan.
“Paul Ryan as Romney’s vice presidential choice just made this party the top delegation bash of the GOP convention,” Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist, told National Journal.
There are other reasons a Massachusetts party at the GOP convention might be a discomfiting event. The second-most prominent Republican in Massachusetts, Sen. Scott Brown, who is in a tight reelection race against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, has distanced himself from the party’s platform and won’t have a speaking role at the convention.
And many Massachusetts delegates are vocal supporters of libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, rather than Romney. Others are in the old mold of the Yankee Rockefeller Republican—fiscally conservative but socially moderate, and uncomfortable with the hard-right direction of the tea party movement.
Romney, of course, is a famously clean-living nondrinker, which, some Republican operatives observed, could cramp the style of a home-state party.
Meanwhile, after the selection of Ryan, the Wisconsin delegation expanded its plans to include a massive pregame-style tailgate party the afternoon before Ryan addresses the delegates as the vice presidential nominee.
Orders to Milwaukee’s MillerCoors and Sheboygan Falls’ Johnsonville reportedly doubled after the announcement of Ryan’s nomination, and the organizers are expecting a huge crowd in Liberty Plaza adjacent to the Tampa Convention Center.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Sen. Ron Johnson are confirmed guests, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who emerged this spring as a rising star of the GOP after pushing to slash benefits from public-employee unions and becoming the first governor in the nation to survive a recall election, has been invited.
The Massachusetts delegates are taking comfort in the fact that they have much better accommodations than usual; they also have direct access to the nominee.
“We got a better hotel for a change,” Hedlund said. “Normally we have the worst.”
This article appears in the August 27, 2012 edition of NJ Convention Daily.