Local GOP members laud Gustav focus, split on Palin

Tuesday, September 2, 2008 | 8:31 p.m. CDT; updated 11:07 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 4, 2008

This article has been modified to clarify Mike Zweifel's comments on the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as Sen. John McCain's vice presidential running mate.

COLUMBIA - All Republicans interviewed for this story on Tuesday agreed that it was a potential visual best avoided: a split television screen showing members of the Grand Old Party wearing silly hats on one side and Gulf Coast residents in peril and mourning on the other.

Mike Zweifel, communications chairman for the Central Missouri Young Republicans, said that he'd seen some "right-leaning blogs" in which members of his party expressed disappointment at the decision to put the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., on hold Monday night, but most seemed happy to try to prove what Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama asserted in his acceptance speech: "That patriotism has no party."

"Politics should take a backseat to our citizens," said Johnathan Ratliff, president of the Mizzou College Republicans. He then rephrased that statement, which has become the new favorite mantra of both parties, four times over a two-minute period.

Lucinda Housley, an at-large delegate at the convention and a first-year law student at MU, said she agreed with the decision.

"I think it absolutely was the best and most appropriate thing to do, because it really isn't about celebrating as a party when part of your country is in a crisis," Housley said. "A lot of our events have turned into fundraising for disaster relief.

"I don't think anybody was upset about it, because we were all pretty worried about what was going on in the Gulf Coast," Housley continued, "and we were relieved to hear that it wasn't as bad as expected."

But Republican responses were not so uniform when it came to the other decision everyone has been talking about: John McCain's choice to make Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin his vice presidential running mate.

"I think, from a woman's standpoint, we see this as a tremendous breakthrough," said Cheri Reisch, vice chairwoman of the Boone County Republican Central Committee. She said she is thrilled that people are seeing that "women can multitask ... women can be wise and be mothers and grandmothers."

Reisch is a single mother and grandmother.

Housley said she's delighted with the Palin pick. "I think she's exactly what we needed. Not only does she excite the base, but she also appeals to women and young people and independents in that she's a definite change from Washington politics."

Zweifel said he wasn't quite ready to commit to Palin. "It was a very bold move, I must admit," he said. "She had kind of fallen off the radar."

He echoed a sentiment of many Republicans when he referred to McCain's decision as "running a reverse." Many members of both parties expected that McCain would choose one of his primary opponents, such as Mitt Romney, to take the slot, and they thought that Palin had been crossed off the potential VP list.

Zweifel also said "the sheer fact that McCain chose a woman" is daring. "She probably has a great upside," he added hopefully. "I'm still trying to educate myself about her."

Ratliff believes Palin's gender is incidental. "She's a pro-lifer, a lifetime NRA member. Those are the things that make her a great Republican... It's just a plus that she's a woman."

Needless to say, Palin will be one of the biggest audience draws now that Hurricane Gustav has subsided and the convention is beginning to go on as scheduled.

Reisch, her voice oscillating with excitement, said, "Everybody will be glued to the TV."

Missourian reporter Casey Smith contributed to this report.


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