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Coleman, Bachmann address a GOP convention suffering from ‘hurricane hangover’

Rep. Michele Bachmann
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Rep. Michele Bachmann addressed the convention Tuesday, a coveted spot for a congressional first-timer.

Sure, Sen. Joe Lieberman, the former Democrat who gets ever redder, and Fred Thompson, the former Republican presidential candidate, were the prime-time speakers on what was the first real night of the Republican National Convention.

But this also was an unofficial Minnesota Night at the convention.

 A number of Republican officials said nice things about our state.

“Minnesota has showed us the true meaning of nice,” said Jo Ann Davidson, co-chairman of the Republican National Committee.

And then Sen. Norm Coleman and Rep. Michele Bachmann spoke, almost back-to-back, as delegates got into the business of being partisans.

Neither brought down the house.

Evening missing usual political fire
But truth be told, nobody got Republicans too fired up tonight.

Thompson didn’t get a huge hand from the delegates until he made a reference to the abortion issue. (Delegates here are overwhelmingly opposed to abortion.)

“We need a president who doesn’t think that the protection of the unborn is above his pay grade,” said Thomspon.

When read, those words sound a little confusing.

But when heard by these delegates, they were a clear, anti-abortion statement, and there was a roar.

Lieberman, who just a few years ago was running for vice president as a Democrat, got a warm reception, even though he favors a woman’s right to choose.

“Country matters more than party,” said Lieberman of why he was at the Xcel Energy Center. 

Mostly, though, there wasn’t a lot of energy in the building. It was as if delegates still had a bit of a hurricane hangover.

“It reminded me a little of what it was like after Sen. (Paul) Wellstone died and Norm Coleman and Tim Pawlenty said, ‘Stop everything,”’ said Angela Erhard, a delegate from Eden Prairie. “It’s a little hard to get going again.”

Coleman was the first of the Minnesotans to step to the podium.

“Good evening and welcome to Pig’s Eye, Minnesota,” Coleman said. “That’s right, we were Pig’s Eye until a Catholic priest built a wooden chapel,  a few steps from here, dedicated to St. Paul.”

The senator went on to explain how St. Paul had become such a good place in recent years.

Coleman touts Minnesota ‘success story’
“Here we sit in the middle of a great Minnesota success story,” Coleman said. “Fifteen years ago, St. Paul was in trouble. Our largest employer left. Crime was rising. And downtown, we had sex shops and the nation’s only failed McDonald’s.”

That line got a chuckle from the delegates.

“The old Civic Center on this site was falling apart,” Coleman continued, “while leaders of the city were holding gang summits and raising taxes. The mayor at that time asked, ‘I’m not indecisive, am I?’ That could be an Obama campaign slogan.”

A few more chuckles and cheers.

“Conservative principles restored this city,” Coleman said.

And, of course, it was Mayor Coleman who restored those principles, though he didn’t mention to the Republicans that he was a Democrat when first elected mayor.

( “You don’t have to mention EVERY fact in a speech,” said Republican delegate Brian Sullivan with a laugh when that oversight was mentioned to him.) 

“With public-private partnership, we rebuilt this great city,” Coleman said.

And then he vowed that the whole Mississippi River watershed — from St. Paul to New Orleans — would be red, “and we will win the White House!”

There was a nice round of applause from the crowd.

Sen. Norm Coleman
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Sen. Norm Coleman touted St. Paul’s success story to the convention.

The Minnesota delegates, seated stage right, at the front of arena were more effusive.

“Norm! Norm! Norm!” they chanted.

“He hit a home run in the hockey arena he built,” said Mike Charron, a Winona delegate.

“Wasn’t the hockey arena a publicly financed project?” Charron was asked.

“Public-private,” Charron responded, laughing.

Bachmann was more, ummm, gushy.

“I’m delighted to welcome you to the land of Minnesota Nice,” she said. “It’s not just a saying, we really are nice. We’re friendly, happy people.”

 Bachmann was bipartisan about happiness in the state.

“I admit we have a lot of liberals in this state, but they’re happy liberals,” she said.

Bachmann spoke glowingly of individuals doing good deeds, but with disdain of government.

 “We must never forget what government is not,” she said. “It’s not a philanthropic organization. And it’s not the family. And it’s certainly not the church.”

Then came her big applause lines.

“As Republicans, we recognize that when you keep more of your hard-earned dollars, you are free to spend it as you choose on the charities that touch your heart and make a difference in your communities.”

Those anti-tax sentiments hit the Republicans deep in their souls. They applauded with gusto.

Then, Bachmann finished up in a really nice way. A really, really nice way.

“America needs John McCain’s service in the White House,” she said. “Thank you, and come back to a really nice state that loves you.”

She blew kisses to the crowd as she walked off stage.

G.R. Anderson Jr. contributed to this report.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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