Politics & Government

Kansas GOP delegates head to convention

It’s not every day you fly toward a tropical storm.

But that’s what a few dozen Kansans have done in the name of politics — namely, the 2012 Republican National Convention taking place in Tampa, Fla., this week.

The storm provides an exciting backdrop to something Republicans have been excited about since Barack Obama took office nearly four years ago — a chance to nominate a new challenger and reconnect with celebrity and grassroots Republicans from across the nation.

Already, they’ve solidified a new platform, a mostly insider document that gently steers the party — this time further to the political right with anti-illegal immigration and proof of voter citizenship touches ushered in by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Next they’ll attend big receptions, schmooze with colleagues and hear round after round of intro music and speeches.

Mornings will start with breakfast speeches by top Kansas officials, including Gov. Sam Brownback, Sen. Pat Roberts, Sen. Jerry Moran and U.S. Reps. Mike Pompeo, Kevin Yoder and Tim Huelskamp. After lunch, companies including AT&T, Koch Industries and Cargill will sponsor meet-and-greet events.

There also will be big fundraisers, including one that supports Brownback’s Road Map political action committee and another for Moran’s Free State political action committee on a yacht.

In the afternoons, delegates will make the short trip from their Hilton Garden Inn hotel near the airport to the convention center to take care of business on the convention floor, listening to top Republicans rev up the crowd.

Brownback and Lt. Gov Jeff Colyer plan to join the Kansas delegation Tuesday through Thursday at the convention in the evenings. They plan to also attend events with the Americans for Tax Reform, National Right to Life Committee and other groups, according to Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag.

Brownback will also co-host a radio show with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Wednesday.

Barker said conventions used to be the time for a fiery debate of huge political issues.

“That doesn’t really happen now,” he said. “It can almost be a one-sided conservation.”

Finally, the foregone conclusion: the nomination of Mitt Romney for president and Paul Ryan for vice president.

As was the case in 2008, Kansas Republicans didn’t support the eventual nominee at their caucuses months ago. They backed a more socially conservative alternative — Rick Santorum this time, Mike Huckabee in 2008. Kansas Republicans voted strongly enough to give Santorum 33 delegates, leaving Romney 7.

Santorum released his delegates, allowing them to side with Romney, on Friday.

Mostly, the convention is about networking with other Republicans, learning how other states are handling important issues and having fun, said Sedgwick County Clerk Kelly Arnold, a Republican attending his third national convention.

“The convention is like the Super Bowl of Republican Party politics,” he said. “You have everyone there — Hollywood celebrities, political celebrities, elected officials — and you can talk with these political pundits you see on FOX and CNN. It just makes for a fun time.”

He hopes it won’t be interrupted by protests or the weather.

Arnold said the delegation hotel can handle up to a Category 2 hurricane. Anything above that would get quite interesting — although forecasts show it looks more likely to be very rainy instead of hurricane conditions.

As of late Sunday, drizzle was falling in Tampa and at least 80 percent of the Kansas delegation had safely arrived, said Clay Barker, executive director of the Republican Party of Kansas.

Although the main convention events have been canceled on Monday, Barker said the Kansas planned events are still scheduled – all in one location at the Hilton Garden Inn on Tampa’s west side.

Isaac is making things interesting, Arnold said.

“If I’m holding onto a light post, I’ll make sure someone takes a picture of me to send,” he said.