Even off the A-list, state GOP happy in Tampa

Tampa, Fla. — They often are treated as poor relations at Republican National Conventions, notwithstanding their financial generosity to the GOP. They are at odds with the party’s long, steady turn to the right, which continued with the 2012 edition of the platform.

But Connecticut Republicans say they will leave the convention in Tampa reconnected, re-energized and ready for November, happy that the vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan is committed to visiting the state in September. Delegates say they expect him in Greenwich and Hartford.

For Leora Levy of Greenwich, a former commodities trader who is a major donor to Republican candidates, serving for the first time as a delegate to a national political convention was a “a great opportunity to participate in the political process.”

Levy attended every session, taking in all of the speeches and sometimes making notes. As a member of the Republican National Committee’s finance panel, Levy was a convention VIP, giving her a closer look at some prime-time speakers.

Simmons Levy

Rob Simmons (l) fought the RINO tag. Leora Levy (r) was a VIP as a first timer.

On Thursday, Levy attended a lunch featuring former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who delivered one of the week’s best-received speeches the previous night. A bonus: a surprise appearance by Ann and Mitt Romney.

Levy also attended an event featuring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the keynote speaker, and “got to hear more of the opinions” of the high-profile, feisty governor.

Ann Brickley of Wethersfield, another first-time delegate, had a different delegate experience. Like Levy, she has a business background, but her service to the GOP came not by writing checks, but by running for Congress in 2010 in the state’s most heavily Democratic district, the 1st.

She networked with fellow members of Maggie’s List, a political action committee that seeks to elect fiscally conservative  women to federal offices. Brickley said she felt “way more Republican” after attending the convention, especially after hearing the acceptance speech of the vice presidential nominee, Paul Ryan.

Although Ryan was criticized by commentators for misstatements in that speech, Brickley defended him, saying, “He’s telling like it is. He’s telling the truth.”

Tom Foley, the former ambassador and 2010 gubernatorial nominee, said he was told by the Mitt Romney campaign that Ryan would come to Connecticut on Sept. 30 for fundraising and campaign stops in Greenwich and Hartford.

Connecticut’s 28 delegates and their alternates started each day with a breakfast where the day’s schedule and choice of activities were discussed. Those events included a trip to George Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees’ spring training camp, a cruise, and museum luncheons.

Special interests paid for these activities, even the breakfasts. Sponsors included AT&T, Aetna, Dominion Resources Services Inc., Nestle Waters North American and RR Donnelley Inc. Brian J. Flaherty of Watertown, an alternate, is director of public affairs for Nestle.

“I sometimes feel like a concierge,” said Jerry Labriola, the state party chairman, leader of the delegation and organizer of events. It is his first convention.

As the long days that sometimes stretched until nearly dawn — it took delegates three hours to reach their beachfront hotel by bus after one session — and the whirlwind of parties and convention duties took their toll, there were fewer and fewer attendees at the breakfasts and other Connecticut events.

Unlike other delegations that nabbed big GOP stars like Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and even Ann Romney, for their daily breakfast meetings, Connecticut’s delegation had few invited speakers. The party holds no statewide office and no congressional seats, and is short on connections here.

It wasn’t always so.

At the 2004 convention in New York, the delegation included Gov. M. Jodi Rell and two members of Congress, Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson. In 2000, Connecticut had numerous connections to the nominee, George W. Bush.

Gov. John G. Rowland was considered an intimate of the Bush family, which has deep roots in Connecticut. The A-list was a little handier back then.

This year, the delegation had to settle for Jack Dalrymple, the governor of North Dakota. But again, the governor was staying at the Connecticut delegation’s hotel, which also hosted the North Dakota delegation.

For Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia, who has attended three conventions, the week in Tampa has strengthened  his resolve to campaign for Republican candidates in the state, especially Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon.

But he said he’ll steer clear of actively campaigning for any congressional candidates, including Steve Obsitnik, who is running in the 4th District against Rep. Jim Himes.

“I have to pick up the phone and call Jim Himes for help sometimes, so that won’t do,” Moccia said.

For many Connecticut Republicans like Moccia, who met House Speaker John Boehner for the first time at an event, the convention tendered introductions to the stars of their party.

“Conventions are typically a pep rally for the party’s insiders,” Foley said.

Gregory B. Butler, a senior vice president of Northeast Utilities and an alternate delegate from Glastonbury, agreed. “It gives people wind under their wings,” he said.

But delegates from the Northeast always are viewed with some suspicion at the national convention. Rell, who viewed herself as a conservative, once told a story of a Texas delegate, upon learning of Rell’s home state, calling her a Communist.

Simmons, a former spy and Vietnam veteran who was a three-term congressman in the 2nd District until losing to Democrat Joe Courtney in 2006, said he fought back against those who referred to Connecticut Republicans as RINOs — Republicans in Name Only.

“When I hear someone say that, I sit them down and set them straight,” he said.

David Mathus, an alternate delegate from Westbrook with homes in two blue states — Connecticut and New York — said the convention renewed his confidence that the Republican Party will increase its strength.

“I don’t drive around Connecticut feeling I’m in a minority,” said Mathus, a lawyer in Manhattan. “We’ve lost our way a little bit, but it’s a temporary phenomenon.”

Perhaps. The state GOP ranks third in voter registration, badly trailing independents and Democrats. But the party’s presidential nominee is from neighborhing Massachusetts, McMahon has a slight lead in the race for an open Senate seat, and at least one of of five U.S. House seats is considered in play.

In Tampa, at the end of a long, chaotic week, that is enough to bring a Connecticut Republican some hope.