Originally created 07/30/00

Optimistic delegates shove off



ATLANTA - It's like a trip to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., would be for a baseball fan.

It's the fun part of politics. It's even a chance to be seen on national television wearing the kind of silly hat you normally wouldn't go out your front door with.

Those are some of the ways Georgia Republicans heading to Philadelphia for the party's national convention this week - many, if not most, for the first time - describe how it feels to be among the few who will get to nominate the GOP's 2000 presidential candidate.

"It's even more exciting than running for mayor," Augusta Mayor Bob Young said last week. "It's getting more exciting the closer it gets."

One hundred and seven delegates and alternates from Georgia will be at the First Union Center on Wednesday night to help give the nod to Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

During the two days and nights before that, they will attend a host of receptions, listen to speeches aimed at pumping up the party faithful and adopt a party platform for the coming campaign. On Thursday night, they'll hear from their man in person, as Mr. Bush delivers his acceptance speech.

In between the scheduled activities, there will be time for those who want to take a break from politics to tour one of America's most historic cities.

While the Georgia delegation boasts such party leaders as state Republican Chairman Chuck Clay and Georgia school Superintendent Linda Schrenko, it also includes rank-and-file party activists being rewarded for hours of behind-the-scenes toil on behalf of the GOP.

Republicans are optimistic that Mr. Bush will carry Georgia in November. They are encouraged both by Mr. Dole's narrow win over Mr. Clinton here in 1996 and by the nearly 430,000 GOP voters who supported Mr. Bush in the state's presidential primary in March, compared to fewer than 240,000 votes for Mr. Gore.

But Democratic voters, too, have reason for enthusiasm now that former Gov. Zell Miller will be on the ballot as the party's choice to complete the four remaining years in U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell's term. Gov. Roy Barnes appointed Mr. Miller last Monday to fill the vacancy left by Mr. Coverdell's death for the rest of this year, and Mr. Miller was sworn in Thursday.

Democrats see Mr. Miller, who completed his second term as governor two years ago with an approval rating above 80 percent, as their best chance to boost the turnout for Mr. Gore.

But Charles Bullock, a political science professor at University of Georgia, said Mr. Barnes might have done better by appointing one of several prominent black politicians whose names were being floated in the days following Mr. Coverdell's death. Georgia set a record for black voter turnout in 1998, with both Attorney General Thurbert Baker and Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond on the ballot.

"Miller won't have that kind of ability to motivate black voters," Dr. Bullock said.

While Republicans gear up for the coming campaign against Mr. Miller, they also will set aside time at the convention this week to honor the memory of Mr. Coverdell, who died July 18 after suffering a stroke.

Mr. Clay said that, before Mr. Coverdell's death, the Georgia party had been planning to hold a reception for him on Tuesday night of convention week. As the state's leading Republican elected official, the senator would have been the delegation's chairman in Philadelphia.

"It's the one thing we had planned for the Georgia delegates, to give our chairman and U.S. senator some visibility," Mr. Clay said. "Now, we're trying to say, `Thanks for a lifetime of service and we won't forget you.'ƒ"

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.

At the show

Here is a list of area delegates and alternates attending this week's Republican National Convention in Philadelphia:

Delegates: David Barbee and Mayor Bob Young, both of Augusta

Alternates: Jamie Reynolds, Greensboro; Georgia school Superintendent Linda Schrenko, Martinez