Tuesday night marked the kickoff of formal convention speakers at the convention hall in downtown Charlotte. Because the Ohio delegation hotel is not downtown, travel to the convention site can be a logistical challenge with security personnel (an estimated 3,500 police officers for the week), barricades and scattered protests.
As the rain drizzled during the afternoon turned into a more steady pour as the evening approached, the delegation braced for a sloppy, wet approach into the convention hall. I can confirm that it was both sloppy and wet getting in, but many kudos to security for a job well done in very difficult circumstances.
Once in the hall, where the Ohio delegation was seated to stage left from the speaker’s vantage point, an impressive political lineup was showcased including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who happens to be a rumored presidential candidate in 2016, Chicago Mayor and former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Rhode Island Gov. (the only Independent governor in the country) Lincoln Chafee, military veterans, the legendary Lilly Ledbetter who fought so hard for equal pay for women and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Additionally, of particular interest to Ohio voters was former Gov. Ted Strickland. Everyone anticipated the keynote address from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as well as first lady Michelle Obama’s speech. Several others spoke, including veterans and those positively impacted by the Affordable Care Act including a mother, accompanied by her husband and children, who discussed how her young daughter would have hit the lifetime cap on care in the absence of the Affordable Care Act. The story touched those in attendance and made the Affordable Care Act’s impact very real and very tangible.
Of the evening’s speakers, the delegation and those from other states I spoke with on the bus back to the delegation hotels were raving about Obama’s speech. They found her speech to be genuine and an intimate look into the side of President Obama that we are not able to see — the side of husband and father and how those roles have not been diminished despite the fact that he is president.
The first lady is very comfortable in her role and was a hit. Similar positive sentiments were present for Castro. He provided an outstanding comparison of President Obama and Romney on the key issues of the election. Essentially, the theme that emerged was President Obama as the candidate for the middle class — the one who understands making ends meet, student loan payments and working hard to get ahead.
On the other side, Romney was described as out of touch with America and a return to the policies of the past. Much of this discussion centered on what President Obama inherited upon taking office — a financial meltdown, two wars and an automobile industry collapsing by the day and the belief that Romney wants to return to policies that led to those problems. This leads me to the speech that I believe was the one that knocked it out of the park — the speech by Strickland.
The passion and vigor with which Strickland delivered his speech was something that I have never seen from him. His simple, easy-to-understand comparison was biting and effective. He delivered what became one of the most memorable lines of the night as he assailed Romney as an outsourcer, tax shelterer and out-of-touch candidate who does not understand middle class values. The line, paraphrased, said that if Romney were Santa Claus, he would fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.
What I most liked about Strickland’s speech was his relation to what is going on in Ohio. For that, I may be biased, but I see it in my backyard each and every day. Governor Strickland discussed how President Obama bet on the automobile industry and the worker. He highlighted the job gains around the state of Ohio. Whether it is job gains in Toledo or Lordstown, Strickland illustrated exactly what the automotive bailout meant for Ohio.
His speech completely resonated with me as I see job gains at Republic Steel in Lorain — a plant that is at least half and closer to two-thirds tied to the automotive industry. I see Camaco, a manufacturer of automobile seat backing for Ford and Chevrolet models that added a third shift and 75 jobs in Lorain. The automobile industry is not just about the finished product. It is about the supply side and the parts and all those contributing to their production.
Strickland hit a home run and delivered like I have never seen before. It is no wonder he is a national campaign co-chair, and it is no wonder that people in the convention hall are wondering whether Strickland’s political career is not quite finished.
I was able to make it back to the CNN Grill for a short time. I left just as Piers Morgan was getting ready to take the set to do post-convention coverage. The convention bus rolled up to the hotel at about midnight, and right now, it’s about 1:30 a.m. Breakfast will be here early so until the next time, I will be getting a quick nap.
Chase Ritenauer is mayor of Lorain and a delegate to the 2012 Democratic national convention.