Twenty-four hours after arriving in Charlotte, N.C., Joanne McDade of Wilkes-Barre is still taking in the hubbub heralding the start of the 2012 Democratic convention.
Media from all the cable news channels and from outposts as far off as Beijing; protesters from faith-based groups hurling condemnations; the odd celebrity sighting; all this comes before the convention‚??s official opening today. McDade is taking it all in with wide eyes and a smile.
‚??I‚??m participating in history,‚?Ě she said. ‚??It‚??s a country where women have the right to vote; where everybody can vote, and I don‚??t understand personally why people wouldn‚??t participate in it. It‚??s one of the greatest freedoms we have.‚?Ě
McDade, a nurse, is part of a party of local Democrats attending the convention this week. She is not there in official delegate capacity, though she is a donor to President Barack Obama‚??s re-election campaign. McDade said she is not a strict party-line voter but came to support a president she believes has helped America, and her.
‚??The Republicans say we are not better off than we were five years ago, but personally I am,‚?Ě she said. ‚??I have a son who was able to purchase a home because of a tax credit; I have a son who‚??s 22 who‚??s still on my health care; I have a son who‚??s in college who has been helped by what (Obama) has done for higher education.‚?Ě
Evie Rafalko McNulty of Scranton, has also been taking in the excitement. The Lackawanna County Recorder of Deeds and a delegate from the 17th Congressional District arrived in Charlotte Saturday and said the host city has welcomed convention-goers warmly thus far.
‚??When they say Southern hospitality, North Carolina is a good example,‚?Ě she said. ‚??They have just been so receptive to us. Last election, North Carolina was a blue state by a small margin. If the reception we‚??re receiving here this year is any indication, then I‚??m sure it‚??s going to remain a blue state this year as well.‚?Ě
On Sunday night, McNulty attended a reception for delegates from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Hawaii and Illinois ‚?? the birthplaces and home states of Vice President Joseph Biden and President Obama. On Monday, she schmoozed at a reception for Pennsylvania delegates hosted by state Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn. And this morning, McNulty will attend a lunch meeting for female state caucus members where candidate for state Attorney General Kathleen Kane will speak.
In short, there‚??s been a flurry of activity even before the convention‚??s official opening tonight, but McNulty maintained the party gathering is ‚??not just partying.‚?Ě
‚??In speaking to people I‚??m understanding the issues more,‚?Ě McNulty said. ‚??So that I could come home and say to my friends ‚?? I know two that are Romney supporters ‚?? and I‚??m going to come back and be able to tell them why Barack Obama has the leadership ability to lead this country for four more years.‚?Ě
State Sen. John Blake of Archbald, a 10th District delegate, said his first party convention is providing him an opportunity to network not only with fellow Democrats from the state legislature but also with his counterparts in neighboring states. Blake called it an opportunity to build partnerships and consensus on common issues like transportation and infrastructure.
Blake, who arrived in Charlotte Saturday, said the more serious side of the convention will begin today, when he will attend caucus meetings on rural issues and small business development.
Local union organizer Roxanne Pauline, a 17th District delegate, said she too is looking forward to rubbing elbows and talking strategy with other delegates and convention attendees, even more than the speeches of the convention‚??s ‚??stars.‚?Ě
‚??I want to see what the crowd is like moreso than the speakers,‚?Ě she said. ‚??You can almost tell what the speakers are going to say. We‚??ll hear something fabulous from Michelle Obama; we‚??ll hear something fabulous from the President; of course we‚??ll hear something amazing from Bill Clinton, but this is a convention about the people. It‚??s there to excite the people; to get new ideas across to the people. I‚??m really interested in meeting with the people that are there.‚?Ě
This year‚??s convention is a first for Thom Shubilla of Plains Township, president of the Luzerne County Young Democrats. Shubilla said he isn‚??t sure what to expect from the convention itself, but hopes it will help the Democrats recapture the enthusiasm that carried Obama to the White House in 2008.
‚??I think four years ago during the convention they were able to recruit thousands of voters, so I hope that finally we come out of our shells and really start hitting doors for the president,‚?Ě he said.
He also said he hopes the Democrats will challenge the rhetoric of last week‚??s Republican convention head on.
‚??I think that they wrongly portrayed the president and his policies,‚?Ě said Shubilla, a delegate from the 17th District. ‚??That‚??s what they really attacked, and I think that this is our time to really counteract those arguments‚?Ľ to really address that we are going in the right direction, and that going backwards, where Mitt Romney wants to take us, is the wrong direction.‚?Ě
Attorney Todd O‚??Malley of Scranton, a delegate in the 17th District, said the president and other speakers do not need to defend the administration‚??s actions because they are ‚??slowly get(ting) us moving in the right direction,‚?Ě despite attacks from the right that say otherwise.
‚??There‚??s been a lot of discussion about whether we‚??re better off than we were four years ago,‚?Ě O‚??Malley said. ‚??I think that‚??s a simple question. Our stock market was at 6,000 then; it‚??s at 13,000 now. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month, whereas we‚??ve added more than 4 million jobs in the last two years. We were in two wars; now we‚??re out of one and we‚??re getting out of Afghanistan.
‚??Joe Biden said it best; Osama bin Laden is dead and Ford and General Motors are alive, so a lot of things are better than they were four years ago.‚?Ě
O‚??Malley has been a delegate at multiple Democratic conventions dating back to 1984, including in 2008 and at this year‚??s convention. He said he thinks the party is beginning to recapture some of the excitement that coalesced around Obama‚??s first run for the presidency.
‚??We haven‚??t started yet, but I think there‚??s an awful lot of excitement in the air and a lot of enthusiasm, so I‚??m looking forward to it,‚?Ě he said.