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Uneasy in Underdog Role, Delegates Rally to Boost Each Other's Spirits : The mood: Some are eager to get back to the grass roots and spread a message of hope. Others still have found little to salve their concerns. : ON THE SCENE. A Look Inside the GOP Convention .

August 20, 1992|CATHLEEN DECKER and JENIFER WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

HOUSTON — His pants are red, his golf shirt is blue and his Arizona delegate's vest is white and covered with star-spangled GOP buttons. Waldo Anderson is a die-hard Republican. He is also a little perturbed.

Anderson believes that George Bush has a debt to settle before he asks his supporters to go home and work their tails off so that he can enjoy four more years in the White House.

"Personally, I feel Mr. Bush has made some mistakes, and the big one in my mind was the tax thing," Anderson, a Tucson real estate salesman with a glowing desert suntan, said as he paused on the edge of the bustling Astrodome convention floor.

"He reneged on a promise--that he wouldn't raise taxes--and I believe he owes us an apology. He should come out in his speech, say he goofed and say he's sorry. . . . I'd feel a heck of a lot more enthusiastic about working and voting for him if he came out and asked forgiveness."

Waldo Anderson is but one camper under the Republicans' big tent. And he and his 2,209 fellow delegates have arrived at their own separate conclusions about the conduct of the convention so far, and about the message they want to hear from their President tonight and the future they see for a party beleaguered in recent months by ideological rifts and anguish about its incumbent ticket.

They are happy and heated, nervous and optimistic. Some ventured to Houston with fingernails bitten to the nub from worry. And now, their bearings collectively righted, they are driven to get back to the grass roots and spread a message of hope. Some have found little to salve their concerns.

*

One evening about five weeks ago, Diana Ohman of Cheyenne, Wyo., was seized by a crushing sense of doom. It arrived when she flipped on the television set and watched Bill Clinton deliver his speech at the Democratic National Convention in New York.

"I got real scared--panicky," recalled Ohman, 41. "First there was that video about his life, then the speech and all that wild energy in the crowd--it looked to me as if this man had the whole world in his hand."

Ohman's worry was this: "How was I gonna go out and convince the people of my state that I had a better candidate than that?"

In Houston this week, Ohman found an answer. It sprang from the inspiring sea of fellow Republicans around her, from the cascading red and blue balloons and from convention speeches that, while occasionally dull, reinforced the GOP values she holds so dear.

"What I've gained here is a feeling of camaraderie and the sense that I'm not alone," Ohman said from her seat amid the chaos. "That sort of thing comes from a gathering, and it is really vital. Coming together has really revved me up."

Yet Ohman still believes that the road to November slopes upward for Republicans. The conservative party platform, she fears, "could scare people off." And she wants specifics from Bush--on the economy, health care and education.

But even with that, she believes the convention and its message--no matter how uplifting inside the dome--are nowhere near enough by themselves to propel the President to victory.

"It catapults us forward but we've got a lot of hard work ahead," said Ohman, who is Wyoming's state superintendent of public instruction. "It's on our shoulders now. We, the regular, plain old Republicans on the street, just have to go out there and get the job done."

*

The meat was sizzling and the delegates sweltering at a luncheon barbecue for the Texas delegation. Kamba the elephant, shipped in by a Dallas animal talent agency, looked like she could use a good hosing down.

San Antonio delegate R. J. Cotter--a proper Texan, he doesn't use his first name--tried to put a cheerful face on the week's proceedings, but he couldn't hide his concern. A 49-year-old mechanical contractor, Cotter said the San Antonio economy is "pretty bleak" and he doesn't anticipate a change soon.

Nothing Bush can say tonight will reassure Cotter on that score so he is hoping that the President will try to deflect some of the blame onto Congress. "If he comes out with more than that, I'll be surprised," Cotter said. "I don't know what else he can offer."

Beyond this week's dilemmas, Cotter feels a deeper worry about the direction of the Republican Party.

"The whole thing is too tightly controlled. I miss the floor fights," said Cotter, a member of the Texas GOP executive committee. "How many opposition speakers have you heard? That should be part of a convention."

He fears that the party, in its efforts to keep fundamentalist Christian and anti-abortion elements in line, has become exclusionary. Cotter is an anti-abortion Catholic, but he said the party should not be driving abortion rights advocates away.

"It will be a continuing problem. Next thing you know, you'll have to have a Bible under your elbow before you can vote and I don't want to see that. A lot of good pro-choice Republicans went to (the short-lived candidacy of independent Ross) Perot, and they may not come back," Cotter said.

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