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On The Floor: Local Republican Delegate Shares Convention Experience


  The conventions are done and the 2016 general election season is under way. But before we put the big parties in Cleveland and Philadelphia to bed, we thought we’d get a first hand account of what it was like in the middle of the action on the convention floor. 

Martin Simmons is the Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida for the First Congressional District and the State Committeeman for Santa Rosa County. The Republican Convention in Cleveland was the second time he was a Republican delegate. He says there was a big difference in the two events. "I was a delegate in Tampa for Romney, and the difference was amazing. [The 2012 convention] being my first one I thought 'okay that's how it is when you're not watching it on TV'. And then when I got the Cleveland I noticed immediately the crowds, the excitement, it was so different in so many ways. In almost every way, as far as excitement. The structure was similar by I kind of think they have to keep the structure similar. But I think the big difference is that we now have a candidate that has the fire in the belly to win the presidency."

Simmons says the excitement went beyond the delegates on the floor and on the stage. "And in the busses and in the hotels and in the restaurants and, yes, on the floor and on the stage ...everywhere, it was just amazing." He said walking around and greeting other delegates from other states he felt a sense of confidence. "[It was a feeling like] we're gonna win this time, it's ours to win, we can do it!"

And he had good reason to be confident. Polls taken after the convention showed Donald Trump got a considerable bounce, moving him ahead of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in many surveys last week. Simmons says he strongly disagrees with media reports that the Republican Convention was dark and pessimistic. On the convention floor, the Florida delegation was seated just behind New York. "[They were] perfect seats, ([he speakers] were incredibly close to you. You could see the expression on their face and the sweat on their brow. It was very, I won't say intimate because there was 25,000 people!"

And that means he had a close up look at the crowd’s reaction to Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement speech. "When he came out, the crowd went wild, positive, stood up, standing ovation, a long standing ovation than we'd given anybody, just about. We're thinking 'here comes the prodigal son. Here he comes to, not necessarily apologize, but he's going to get it right and he's going to endorse. He's going to do what's right." As the Cruz speech went on, Simmons noticed where it was going and also noticed a change in the crowd around him. "As he got going towards the end, and you can kinda tell when they're wrapping it up, the crowd started chanting 'Endorse Trump! Endorse Trump!' and he didn't he just kind of grinned as he was giving his speech all the way to the end. And you could tell when he said 'vote your conscience', that let us know he's not gonna do it." Simmons said he was not booing, he was just watching the crowd thinking "is this really happening?" In the end Simmons said "he blew it, he just blew it."

Martin Simmons, who was originally a Ted Cruz supporter, rejected the calls for delegates to go against the rules and vote for anyone they preferred during the roll call vote. He was a part of the committee that made the Florida primary a winner take all primary and was not about the support suspending a rule he helped create…and agreed with. The final question was would he do it again in 2020? "Oh I'd love to do it every time! Absolutely! Especially if it's in Hawaii!"

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.