Kentuckians will play key role in GOP convention

Kentucky's delegates to the Republican National Convention will be prominent throughout — and played a key role in setting up — the four-day event that begins Monday in Minneapolis.

Inez banker Robert "Mike" Duncan, because of his position as RNC chairman, will be just the second Kentucky Republican to call to order the convention Monday afternoon. The late U.S. Sen. Thurston Morton was the first Kentuckian to do so when he presided over the 1964 GOP convention.

And Kentucky's senior U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, is among the scheduled speakers.

All of that is a prelude to the eventual nomination of John McCain as the GOP's presidential candidate.

"Kentuckians are going to be very involved," said Duncan, who hosted a reception for the Kentucky delegates Friday night. "And Kentuckians are going to be very well-treated at this convention."

This comes after two delegates, Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Kelly Knight of Lexington, helped the party side-step controversy during the writing of the convention's official positions on energy and environmental issues.

It required some delicate balancing between the opinion of many GOP activists with that of McCain's when it comes to allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

That proved to be even more meaningful once news came out Friday that McCain had selected Alaska's Gov. Sarah Palin, who supports drilling inthe refuge, as his running mate. McCain's energy policy called for the continued protection of the Alaskan wildlife refuge.

Much of the diplomacy was orchestrated by Grayson, who had been appointed chairman of the committee handling the convention's energy platform.

"I remember when people found out what I was doing they were kidding me, saying, 'I can't wait to see how you thread that needle,'" Grayson said.

The panel eventually developed a statement that skirts the issue by reading: "We support accelerated exploration, drilling and development in America, from new oilfields off the nation's coasts to onshore fields, such as those in Montana, North Dakota and Alaska."

Grayson says that by not mentioning drilling in the Alaskan refuge, the platform statement "doesn't thumb its nose at McCain and his position on the subject." Grayson says he supports exploring for oil in that section of Alaska.

The group faced a similar challenge with a statement regarding global warming, which the party's position statement refers to as "climate change."

"For me the terms are interchangeable," Grayson said. But for others in the party the term "global warming" isn't acceptable. "I think the distinction some people make is that they aren't fully convinced that maybe we're not warming," he said. "I don't think there's skepticism that something's going on, which is why the climate change phrase is OK with them."

With energy prices and the environment remaining key issues and McCain having a more "green" stance than many conservatives in the party, Grayson said crafting statements a majority of GOP activists and McCain supporters could agree upon was crucial. "Sometimes parties are better at giving lip-service to unity than showing unity," Grayson said. "This whole section on environmental and energy policies was clearly action."

Overall, the Republican convention is expected to contain slightly less drama than the Democrats' version last week, which was seen as a chance for the factions of Hillary Rodham Clinton and nominee Barack Obama to try to come together. McCain wrapped up the GOP nomination half-way through the spring primary. So the 45 Republican delegates from Kentucky — and the 38 alternates — aren't concerned about having to smooth over rough edges from the primary.

"You're going to see a unified theme that has to do with the fact that John McCain has put his country first and he has had a career of reform," said Duncan. "He believes in peace and prosperity. You're going to see those themes interwoven throughout the week."

For the delegates themselves, the excitement of seeing a nomination of a president will be the highlight. Several delegation members, such as state Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington of Fort Wright and Mike Goins of Georgetown, are especially excited to attend their first convention. Goins backed McCain early in the primary at a time when many Kentucky Republicans' support was spread between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"Sen. McCain appealed to me because I view myself as a moderate," said Goins, a former TV reporter who has always wanted to attend a national political convention. "I was pretty much undecided early on. But as I gathered information and saw the delegates, I became a big supporter of John McCain."

Webb-Edgington, meanwhile, has looked forward to attending a GOP national convention since her father was a delegate at the Miami convention in 1968. "I'm just excited to see the energy," she said. "And getting an opportunity to see our next president — that gives me kind of chills just thinking about it."