They're the envy of every rock-ribbed county Republican who's ever dreamed of waving flags and cheering on the spectacle that is a presidential nominating convention.
This weekend, the Orange County Republican Party packed off nearly three dozen of its choicest emissaries to Philadelphia for the quadrennial Grand Old Party bash. A solid bloc of George W. Bush delegates, the partisans will begin their varied and boisterous duties at the Republican National Convention on Monday. And while one or two first-time conventioneers expressed some questions as to what exactly their job would be once they got there, one party official explained the event this way:
"It is a week of very serious partying," said Orange County GOP Chairman Tom Fuentes, a veteran of two conventions. "It is a week of genuine challenge to the liver. There are breakfasts, lunches, cocktail receptions and dinners that will tax even the most abundant waistlines."
Joining up with the rest of the state's 324 delegates and alternates at the University Sheraton, Orange County's delegation includes such county party stars as Assembly Republican Leader Scott Baugh, Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, former state senator and county supervisor Marian Bergeson, county airport booster and businessman George Argyros, car alarm mogul Darrell Issa and Lois and Peter Godfrey, co-chairs of the Southern California campaign to elect Bush.
Amid the welter of state legislators, campaigners and retired office holders though, are an ethnically diverse contingent of lesser-known but no less loyal delegates--Orange County Fair board member Emily Sanford, John Wayne Airport spokeswoman Nghia Nguyen, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board member Lydia Cano and Disney executive and community volunteer Mary Jean Duran.
On the list of first-time conventioneers are Assemblymen Ken Maddox of Garden Grove and Dick Ackerman of Fullerton. Maddox, who left early Friday morning with his wife, 13-year-old daughter and 4-month-old son, said he hoped to combine his political appearances with a family holiday.
"It's been daunting just getting ready for it," Maddox said. "We had to board our dog and we've already shipped a load of diapers and formula and a crib to the hotel."
The duties of convention delegates and their alternates have changed greatly over the generations since the rise of the primary election process. Gone are the days of intense brokering between delegates in the proverbial smoke-filled room--when an alternate would spell a delegate who needed to go to the bathroom but feared something critical would occur while he was gone.
Today, officials say the delegate's job is as much about pumping up the candidate's campaign to a fevered pitch in front of the world's television camera's as anything else. And of course there's no small amount of schmoozing and campaign plotting that occurs as well.
First-timers said they were amazed by the downpour of invitations they received for receptions, barbecues and parties, hosted by a mix of lobbyists, Philadelphia officials, political candidates and industry groups.
"I'm never going to have time to go to all of these," Ackerman said as he thumbed through a two-inch stack of invitations.
Nguyen, 27, of Garden Grove, said she was most excited by the prospect of sitting in on a party platform meeting and the actual nomination.
"I know the candidate's already been selected, but there's something about the whole formality of officially nominating a presidential candidate that is very exciting," Nguyen said. "And then there are all these people wearing funny patriotic clothes and hats and things. I've got my camera and my film ready."
Delegates acknowledged that sightseeing in the historical City of Brotherly Love would occupy a significant amount of their time as well.
"I'm a real history buff, so I'm really interested in looking around," Maddox said.
Despite the many lavish receptions that are thrown for delegates, conventioneers must pay their own way. In all, travel and room expenses, as well as meals, can quickly add up to between $2,000 and $3,000. However, those delegates bound for Philadelphia said the expense was a small sacrifice.
"I consider this an honor, so you just suck up the cost" said Duran, of Aliso Viejo. "Maybe if I were still a member of the Young Republicans we would all get one room and sleep 14 of us, but nobody wants to do that now."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The following is a list of Orange County Republican National delegates and alternates, as well as delegates from surrounding counties who live within the same congressional districts.