Wisconsin delegate Sol Grosskopf wears his cheesehead hat during the Republican… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
TAMPA, Fla. -- Is this the Republican National Convention or is this a Halloween party with a lot of strange Mitt Romney fans?
National political conventions always have an element of carnival spirit, and dressing in native garb -- whatever that might mean -- is a time-honored tradition. Cowboy hats? Yep. Abe Lincoln look-alike? Check. Wisconsin cheesehead? Strange, elephant-themed headgear? Shirts festooned with American flags and fighter planes? All here.
But some of this year's GOP get-ups were -- different.
Much of the Michigan delegation was wearing football jerseys with the name and number (48) of President Ford, who was a star football player at the University of Michigan. The front row of the delegation looked like the Wolverines' front line, if Michigan suddenly began suiting up players who were not actual football players.
"Unfortunately, President Ford is forgotten by many," said Dennis Lennox of Traverse City, who was the guest of a delegate and was wearing one of the jerseys. (Ford died in 2006.) "We in Michigan don't forget him."
The West Virginia delegation sported (if that's the right word) black miners' helmets with labels reading, "Friends of coal."
"We have the most underground miners in the United States," said delegate Todd Gunter of Charleston, W.Va., "and our economy, we feel, is suffering under President Obama." He said the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama has enforced the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act in ways that have limited coal production and use. "We have the most abundant reserve of coal in the world in America. We just can't mine it and we can't burn it," he said.
About half the Kansas delegation was decked out in Kansas City Chiefs T-shirts, never mind that the Chiefs play in Kansas City, Mo., not in Kansas. There was no hidden political message behind the shirts, delegate John Pyle said. "We're just all Chiefs fans in Kansas."
But that was the more conventional half of the Kansas delegation. Among the others were delegates dressed as Wyatt Earp and Amelia Earhart (famous Kansans) and several characters from the Wizard of Oz, including the good witch Glinda and her counterpart the Wicked Witch of the West. (They're Oz-ians, not Kansans, but author L. Frank Baum was from Kansas, so they count.)
Democrats could probably have a field day interpreting all this, but the Wicked Witch, delegate Lisa Ritchie of Wichita, insisted that the costumes had no deeper meaning. Asked why she had dressed as a witch, complete with black cape and pointed hat, she said, "Why not? We're just trying to showcase our state as a fun state."
So the message is: Kansas, fun. West Virginia, less fun. And Michigan? They remember the president who was defeated by Jimmy Carter.