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    Convention thoughts from Tom Webb

    Tuesday, August 31, 2004

    Viewer Mail  

    Today's installment of Viewer Mail comes with the reminder that I've set up a special convention e-mail account -- -- so keep those cards and letters coming. Except for the spam.

    One saucy reader wants to know about the "spa" that has been set up here in the media area, and wonders whether I've gone for a visit. The spa is giving free massages, haircuts and facials, I'm told.

    No, I have not (and I consider the spa here an especially dopey idea). But I'm not sure whether or not this suggestion qualifies as some sort of hint that perhaps I ought to. After all, the blog does have my picture. In any case, I'd like to imagine that my journalistic competitors at the Star-Tribune are spending their days getting waxed and peeled, even if they're probably not.

    A generous reader from Boston (who reads the Pioneer Press online to keep up with the Vikings) asks whether I am related to the Pine Island branch of the Webbs, and sends his regards. Alas, no. I hail from the St. Paul branch -- but it's good to know Minnesota Nice has established an East Coast outpost.

    Several readers have Laurie Coleman observations, including one who jokingly wanted photos. Hey pal, you've got the wrong website.

    And one reader asked several cryptic questions about life at Madison Square Garden, including, "Do they sell alcohol there?" I'll have to check on that, but I didn't see any in the media area. But at the convention hospitality suites, the booze was flowing freely -- all of it sponsored by various corporations.

    Norm on a mission 

    You've got to hand it to Sen. Norm Coleman. Minnesota's Republican senator was out partying with Rudy Giuliani until 2 a.m. Tuesday, then back at Madison Square Garden at 6:50 a.m. for a full slate of radio, TV, wire service and newspaper interviews.

    True, he did look a little bleary-eyed early on (but hey, who didn't?), and he hadn't shaved, so an aide had to fetch a razor and some shaving cream. But after a quick shave and a few gulps of coffee, Coleman was his old gregarious self. In rapid succession, he deftly handled a dozen or so interviews, then set out for what promises to be a grueling day of forums, interviews, delegate meetings, TV appearances, and parties _ not to mention serving as emcee during tonight's roll-call.

    This kind of energy and relentless drive is rare, except among a certain breed of high-level elected official. Paul Wellstone, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole all shared that hunger and drive, even if their political philosophies and personal motivations greatly differed. The party officials know this, and are watching Coleman at work. And for a hard-working political striver, the national convention may be the best platform on earth.

    Food update: cancel that order 

    Happily, calm has been restored in the media village. Food has returned.

    A surprise food shortage at the "restaurant" here was the subject of much chit-chat at the Republican National Convention yesterday, but by this morning, the restocking elves had done their work.

    In truth, the real problem isn't so much the food -- there are lots of restaurants nearby. Instead, it's the fact that the hyper-security surrounding Madison Square Garden makes anyone inside the security "bubble" dread the thought of leaving and then re-entering, lest they have to navigate through the maze of Jersey barricades, metal fencing, road-blocking vehicles, closed streets, security checkpoints, metal detectors, bag searches, German shepherds and credential checks.

    Still, it might have been fun to hear speculation about which media personality could best afford to skip a few meals. Chris Matthews? Rush Limbaugh? Michael Moore? Candy Crowley? The choices are many.

    Cleavage update 

    OK, OK, people. By popular demand (well, two emails), it's time for an update on Laurie Coleman, the senator's wife who created a small stir last week with a pair of provocative photos published in The Washington Post.

    Mrs. Coleman is here in New York, and making the Republican rounds. Fellow reporter/blogger Alan Bjerga of the Kansas-centered Ozblog -- -- spotted Mrs. Coleman at Monday night's Travis Tritt concert and salute to Republican senators, including Sen. Norm Coleman. Mrs. Coleman was wearing an ankle-length black evening dress, he reports.


    "Yes, there was cleavage," he added.

    The senator himself was asked about all this on Monday, and sort of shrugged it off. What's the problem with being an attractive woman at a Republican convention? After all, he noted, a former Miss America will be speaking Tuesday to the delegates.

    Monday, August 30, 2004

    Old soldiers...wait, not that old. 

    Joe Repya, a veteran from Eagan, twice basked in the convention spotlight Monday night.

    First, Repya led the Republican delegates in the Pledge of Allegiance. He thinks he was chosen for this honor because, after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, Repya volunteered to come out of retirement and rejoin the active-duty military. He expects to go to Iraq soon, again serving our country.

    His second appearance Monday night veered a teeny bit off-script. A GOP television crew interviewed Repya on the convention floor, and his comments were aired in the hall and over television.

    The young interviewer asked, "You served not only in Kuwait, but also in the Korean War and in Desert Storm. Now, why don't you tell me, you retired in 1998. You have decided to serve your country again, and return to Iraq. Why?"

    Replied Repya, who is 58, "Well, actually, Vietnam and Desert Storm."

    Well, close. But Repya made a nice recovery and continued.

    "I believe that this nation needs strong leadership at the top, with someone like George W. Bush, but they also need strong leadership on the battlefield. Our nation is at war, and my family and I are willing to make that sacrifice."

    Bob Dylan tribute? 

    The roll-call of the states began early at the Republican National Convention -- on opening day -- and that's when Sen. Norm Coleman stepped to the microphone and quoted Bob Dylan.

    "Minnesota native Bob Dylan said 'Times they are a-changin.' They are changing in Minnesota, with our great young Republican governor Tim Pawlenty, half of our Washington delegation being Republican, and for the first time in 32 years in a presidential election, Minnesota is going to be in the Republican column on Nov. 2."

    It's a nifty turn of phrase, yet it's far from clear that Bob Dylan would approve. The Hibbing-bred singer/songwriter/legend has spoken on stage about his regard for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, and is rumored (but no more than that) to be among the musicians who will perform at concerts this fall designed to defeat President Bush and put Democrat John Kerry in the White House.

    Send food! 

    Here in the fine-dining capital of the world, food is strangely sparce. The convention had hardly opened when the "restaurant" in the sprawling media center sold out of bagels. (And in New York City, of all places!)

    By early afternoon, it appeared to be out of prepared sandwiches, salads, fruit and chicken fingers. That pretty much left hot dogs, from what I could tell.

    This is the first day, so a certain amount of chaos is expected. But still, if this continues, we'll all be a lot thinner on the Big Apple Diet.

    Meanwhile, the New York visitors bureau has arrayed posters around town, bragging that New York boasts "17,312 restaurants _ that's one a day for 47 years."

    Minnesota GOP in NYC 

    The Republican National Convention has begun, and on Day One, a handful of Minnesota Republicans are getting a moment in the sun.

    Eric Hoplin, president of the College Republicans and a native of Detroit Lakes, is scheduled to speak at about 1:25 p.m. Minnesota time.

    U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman will be delivering Minnesota's vote tonight, as part of what convention organizers call "a rolling roll-call" of the states. Back in 2000, party chairman Ron Eibensteiner delivered the votes, and drew a bit of flak for calling Minnesota the "land of 10,000 lakes and one goofy governor." (Eibensteiner didn't seem to much mind missing his fame this time around, although he did muse about what praise he might have given the governor this time, since it's now Republican Tim Pawlenty.)

    At tonight's opening session, Joe Repya of Eagan will lead the delegates in the Pledge of Allegiance.

    Finally, two longtime Minnesota GOP dignitaries were cited in the memorial roll-call since the last convention. Harold Stassen, a onetime governor of Minnesota (who was later known for his frequent presidential attempts) died in 2001; Clark MacGregor, a former congressman and GOP fixture, died in 2003.

    Good morning, GOP 

    It didn't take Minnesota Republicans long to see the value of hailing from a political swing state. On Monday morning, they awoke on New York's chic East Side, listened to a cabinet secretary for their morning speaker, and then enjoyed VIP status as they were wisked efficiently aboard buses directly to Madison Square Garden.

    The same hotel-to-hall trip four years ago in Philadelphia would have taken at least an hour _ and nobody was waving their bus through red lights back then.

    The morning speaker was Education Secretary Rod Paige, who concluded his remarks by telling the GOP delegates, "The other guys are really not good for America." Then he urged them, "Bring us Minnesota!"

    Afterward with the media, Paige was asked about Minnesota's experience with the No Child Left Behind law. Paige noted that, "Each state sets its own standards, so Minnesota set some high standards," adding that, "I congratulate the state for recognizing the schools they need to work on." He added, "We don't play any role in what standards the states have."

    Sunday, August 29, 2004

    Welcome to New York. NOT! 

    From the looks of it, you'd almost think most of New York City banded together to send an in-your-face message to the Republican conventioneers: Go away.

    Even miles away from the big anti-Bush protest march on Sunday, the streets of Manhattan were alive with anti-Bush signs, t-shirts, leaflets and buttons.

    Wherever you walked Sunday, it wasn't unusual to come across two or four people in each block sporting an anti-Bush message: "George W. Bush, the Toxic Texan." Or, "Beer not Bush." Or, "Elect a madman, you get madness." Or, "Why change horses in mid-apocalypse?"

    By contrast, I saw just one person wearing a Bush button the entire day Sunday.

    Some of the protests were more theatrical than others. Republican delegates were each invited to attend a Broadway show on Sunday afternoon. The Minnesota contingent went to "Phantom of the Opera." Delegates from Texas went to see the song-and-dance favorite, "42nd Street>"

    A group of protesters was waiting for the Texans, with their own all-singing, all-dancing street production. A dozen women wearing glittery outfits, tap shoes and colorful wigs performed their own sidewalk chorus line, singing a mocking song about "a boy from Crawford, Texas" and performing a raunchy dance. Men dressed in suits, wearing Bush and Rumsfeld masks, strutted alongside and waved.

    A few blocks away, a separate protest group, "Billionaires for Bush," stood outside a club where well-connected GOPers were gathering for a bash. Their signs: "Free Kenneth Lay!" and "Global warming = better tans."

    This is a tough town 

    New York is unlike anywhere else. Less than an hour after arriving here, I'd already gotten into my first traffic accident (a fender-bender, nobody hurt), and then been admonished by a policeman for walking too slowly across an intersection.

    The accident occurred when my zippy cab-driver pulled up at the East Side Marriott hotel where the Minnesota contingent is staying. Just as my cabbie darted into an open spot, a passenger in another cab opened his car door and CRUNCH. Fortunately nobody was hurt, but it left both vehicles wounded, and both cab-drivers peeved.

    My verbal reprimand came from one of New York's Finest, who was directing traffic near Grand Central Station. I waited at the intersection for the WALK sign, and when the light turned green, I started to cross the street at my usual midwestern pace. A few steps later, the officer began shouting.

    "Sir, you gotta move faster," he scolded me.

    On the right track 

    One Amtrak employee Sunday certainly captured the spirit of the political conventions, where superlatives run as thick as confetti.

    As the train from Washington was leaving for New York, he welcomed aboard any GOP delegates, and added, "we hope you have the best convention ever in the history of the world."

    Thursday, August 26, 2004

    Oh, THAT cleavage-displaying photo 

    This week's most unexpected bit of pre-convention buzz came courtesy of Laurie Coleman, the actress-wife of Minnesota's Republican senator Norm Coleman, who posed for a pair of "provocative" cheesecake photos that appeared in The Washington Post on Thursday.

    See the photos for yourself: The Post described them as being released "just in time for the Republican National Convention." Indeed.

    Mrs. Coleman's photos were in fact garnering much attention _ drawing not only a laudatory statement from the senator (he was "proud of her and what she has accomplished") but also from curious Post readers. Laurie Coleman's photos ranked as the second-most-viewed pictures on the Post website on Thursday -- bested only by a photo of Pamela Anderson. (There wasn't much interest in that photo of John Ashcroft, evidently).

    Webb Blog intends to follow developments in this cleavage-displaying, lingerie-wearing story.

    Goodbye, Guam! 

    When Minnesota Republicans gathered at the 2000 national convention, they were seated so far back that their closest neighbor was the delegation from Guam. This is the sort of punishment parties like to inflict when The Other Party wins your state 9 times in the previous 10 presidential elections.

    But hey, that was then. Now, everyone's kissing up to Minnesota, the new swing state.

    Ron Eibensteiner, the GOP state chairman, received word Thursday night that the Minnesota delegation is "virtually right up front" in the convention hall. While this is good news indeed for Minnesota Republicans, it does mean the end of a beautiful friendship between yesterday's non-entities.

    As Eibensteiner had himself predicted earlier, "I think we're going to be doing a lot better than Guam. I hate to say that, because I don't want to insult my friends in Guam _ and I did get to know them."

    Guam Update 

    Republican officials just released a map of the convention floor, confirming that the delegations from Minnesota and Guam have indeed officially parted ways.

    Minnesota's delegates will be seated in primo spots on the main convention floor, directly behind the delegation from Florida, the Mother of All Swing States. (And home of the president's brother).

    Guam, meanwhile, will be in its usual spot: in the rafters. Look for it in Section 231.

    Protests in NYC, spin in NYC 

    Protests have begun in New York, as have the efforts to spin them for partisan purposes. Republicans claim that the protesters are organized by Democrats, who are dissing the president. Democrats claim that the protesters are acting on their own, and they'd prefer to leave the GOP festivities alone.

    In Minnesota, the state Republican Party has unveiled its own website featuring Minnesota protesters at Bush events _ to show "the hatred that has come to define the Democratic Party." Here's the link:

    Several dozen Minnesota protesters are heading to New York, but from what I can tell, they don't seem to be DFL-inspired. One of those heading to New York, Meredith Aby of Minneapolis, said that the sponsoring Antiwar Committee was founded in 1998 in response to military action by President Bill Clinton. She and her group also protested at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, as well as at other events.

    As for hating the president, well, that's been around a while, too. One of my favorite examples came after I wrote an article in 2000 saying President Clinton would soon be visiting the Twin Cities. I received a handwritten response from a reader that I've always considered a classic of the genre. (Plus, it had excellent penmanship).

    Dear Tom,
    This is a classic case of news manipulation and liberal propagandizing. While liberal media types may get off on a visit by the slimeball socialistic figurehead, others of us find him disgusting and embarrassing. Please keep your bias and your opinions for the op-ed page and present news which is, in fact, news!

    Tuesday, August 24, 2004

    In a New York minute 

    Greetings again. After an August hiatus, WebbBlog is back in business, this time gearing up for the Republican National Convention in New York City, starting Aug. 30.

    So here's my gig: The good folks at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Knight Ridder have encouraged me to blog at the political conventions, focusing on All Things Minnesotan. I'll still be writing daily stories for the Pioneer Press during both conventions, but this blog will serve as a less formal and (I hope) fun window into conventionland, amusing incidents, celebrity-gawking, clever quotes, Minnesotans in action, the occasional gripe, and assorted whatnot.

    And hey folks, this is an interactive world, so I encourage Viewer Mail. I've set up an e-mail account just for this purpose -- it's --and I'll try to post some of the more interesting. This will be greatly aided by my vastly upgraded computer connections. At the Democratic National Convention in Boston, I was blogging over a 28.8 speed modem (pause for shrieks of horror) and lacked easily accessible e-mail. But now, my Windows 98 operating system is as modern as the millenium.

    Our computer wizards, by the way, had this response when I brought my laptop in for an upgrade: "You've got to be kidding!"

    So, let's begin. The only rule is, try to keep it reasonably polite. If you're looking for bile-spewing partisan invective, you're in the wrong place. And if you're looking for Viagra spam or the Paris Hilton sex tapes, you're really in the wrong place.

    Monday, August 02, 2004

    Bye-bye Boston, hello New York 

    Hey everyone, Webb Blog will be taking a break between the political conventions.

    But check back during the Republican National Convention in New York. The GOP convention runs Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 at New York's Madison Square Garden.

    See you then.

    Viewer mail  

    Thanks to everyone in the blogosphere for their thoughts, greetings, corrections and amendments on my inaugural blog from the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

    One person corrected me on the title for Mary Beth Cahill. She's the campaign manager for the Kerry campaign, not a spokesperson, as I earlier referred to her. Mea culpa. This may be the Internet, but we still aim for accuracy here!

    Another reader wondered if our press area ever warmed up, once we'd duct-taped over every air conditioning vent in sight. Answer: yes! Score one for the do-it-yourselfers.

    Several readers added details about the Spinal Tap gang. One noted that Harry Shearer also appeared in a Godzilla movie, playing (if you can believe this) a bumbling reporter.

    One friend from college kindly observed that I hadn't aged much in the past 25 years. Evidently his Internet connection isn't very good. Another college friend made comments about the food in Boston. It's funny that conventions have a reputation for lavish buffets. My dining experience ran more toward soggy sandwiches and being charged $3 for a bag of M&Ms in the press tent.

    Several readers groused about the TV coverage of the convention. I haven't a clue about that. One good thing about being there: you don't need to listen to the TV commentators.

    Thanks to all who wrote.

    Sunday, August 01, 2004

    Some party perspectives 

    On the final day of the convention, I asked several prominent DFLers how they thought the week had gone. Some of their thoughts.

    U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., was impressed by a range of things in Boston, "from the unity, which is genuine, and the intensity of support for the ticket, and the sense of hopefulness about the campaign."

    Dayton said that earlier in the year, Democrats worried that "whoever the nominee was would be savaged by the Bush campaign _ which has happened _ and would not have the resources or the organizational acumen and the party unity to be able to weather that, and to forge his own identity and candidacy. That hasn't happened. He (Kerry) endured $80 million of negative attack advertising, and he's ahead in the polls nationally."

    So as Kerry leaves Boston, Dayton said, "I think he's in a tremendously good position, and I think the tactics of the Republicans, throughout the past couple of months, in the unprecedented barrage of 75 percent to 80 percent negative ads for an incumbent president -- and even this week in this attempt to try to twist everything that's said here in our convention -- to me smacks of real desperation on the part of the Bush reelect committee and the Republican Party."

    "I'm going to urge that our party let the Republicans have their convention in New York without that kind of organized attack," Dayton said.

    U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-St. Paul, was struck by the "energy, commitment and hope" among Democrats in Boston.

    She also noted, "What I'm sensing is people are waking up to the reality that that democracy isn't something you can take for granted." She cited ongoing efforts to purge voter rolls, change election laws, intimidate voters, and various campaign dirty tricks.

    Tom Webb

    Tom Webb is the Washington correspondent for the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press. He can be reached at

     Latest posts

       •  Signing off, I thank you
       •  Viewer mail II
       •  Post convention thoughts
       •  But seriously now, Republicans...
       •  Quick, get me rewrite
       •  My life as the Green Room
       •  Brooklyn bridge
       •  Partisan bash
       •  Day Three
       •  Painting the town


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