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Continued: GOP National Convention puts out SOS for volunteers

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 23, 2008 - 11:12 PM

Kjersti Duncan needs a little help these days -- from 10,000 of you, actually -- and the quest takes her all over town.

She was in the rain outside the Metrodome a few weeks back, handing out flyers seeking volunteers for the Republican National Convention, set for Sept. 1-4 in the Twin Cities.

Last week, she made a pitch at the Eagan Rotary Club, where one member told how his wife got bit by a bat and a motivational speaker offered career strategies.

Duncan has her own strategic goal: locking in enough convention volunteers while her counterparts in Denver, where the Democrats will hold their convention, have long since wrapped up the task.

On Monday, Duncan, volunteer coordinator for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Host Committee, was helping out at a news conference that unveiled a first prize for whomever recruits the most volunteers.

"We're not worried," Duncan said in a recent interview.

She ticks off the reasons that becoming a volunteer will be a chance to showcase the Twin Cities and to be an eyewitness to history.

"This is an opportunity to make our area shine and meet people from all over the world."

The local committee says it has enlisted 6,000 volunteers.

But it still needs another 4,000. The Denver Host Committee, which says it has gotten 21,000 volunteers for the Democratic convention, Aug. 25-28, shut off the application process three months ago.

On Monday, Duncan was at Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis, where she helped two interns get into elephant and donkey costumes for a news conference to promote "Convention Volunteer Sign-Up Week."

Mayors Chris Coleman of St. Paul, the host city, and R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis -- both Democrats-- signed a proclamation and cozied up to the mascots of the two major political parties to underscore that this volunteering business is a nonpartisan effort.

Duncan came on board May 2. The Twin Cities host committee, which set a June 30 deadline for its 10,000 volunteers, has extended that to July 15.

The difference from Denver may reflect some early-on organizational problems for the Twin Cities committee. Denver started recruiting earlier, plus the GOP convention falls during a busy week when schools resume classes and people have post-Labor Day plans, said Teresa McFarland, the committee spokeswoman.

But some observers cite political factors.

"I think the difficulty facing the host committee may reflect the muted enthusiasm of Republicans and of other Minnesotans regarding the GOP and this election year," says Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute.

"We are just seeing that in many different ways, whether it's in campaign contributions, turnouts for primaries or caucuses, or volunteering for the campaigns. It's another symptom the Republicans have this year in both exciting and mobilizing Americans and their base of support."

Take me out to the convention

On the Metrodome Plaza in early June, Duncan and the elephant and donkey mascots were getting mixed reactions.

"It's great to have it in our state," said Fred Holscher, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant and a Republican, who said that he and his wife, Shirley, will be volunteers.

But Jim Roth, an attorney, had a different take. "I'm not pleased with the Republicans, so even though it would be nice for the city, it would be against my principles to volunteer," he said. "I'd be more likely to be protesting."

Only a handful of volunteers will get inside St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, site of the proceedings. But what the host committee needs is masses of volunteers to greet delegates, media and guests at the airport, assist with bus transportation, act as concierges of sorts at 100 local hotels, and staff CivicFest, a nonpartisan political exposition at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Volunteers will get training in customer service basics in July and specific training for their assignment when the convention draws near.

Pumped up

Steve Conlin, 50, a real estate agent in the Eagan office of Edina Realty, got enthused by Duncan when she spoke at the Rotary Club's luncheon.

"I'm going to go back to my office and see if I can get some people to volunteer," he said.

Volunteer organizers concede that, although the host committee was created as a nonpartisan community effort to promote the Twin Cities, the majority of signups will be Republicans.

"We are conservatives and Republicans," said Jeanne Dornbach, 74, a retired registered nurse from Emily, Minn., 30 miles northeast of Brainerd, who will be a volunteer along with her husband, Don. "We feel it is important and it is a small way to help a cause we believe in -- the election of John McCain."

However, Eric Vollen, a Democrat and supporter of Barack Obama, decided to volunteer on Monday. "I am really interested in showing off our great city and state to visitors," said Vollen, who works for a local advertising firm.

The past as a predictor?

A bit of history suggests that host committees eventually get their volunteers, although it can be a struggle.

In 2000, the committee in Philadelphia, where the Republicans held their convention, had signed up 13,000 volunteers by early April. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, where the Democratic Party got together that year, the host committee got 10,000 volunteers, but it took until the end of July.

The host committee in Boston, where the Democrats convened in 2004, had 14,000 volunteers by mid-May, while its counterpart in New York City, site of the GOP convention, lined up 15,000 volunteers by mid-July.

Jacobs of the Humphrey Institute said he has been encouraging his students to volunteer and "get a front-row seat to history." But he said when he asked them whether they'd signed up, he discovered a "lack of follow-up." Still, he remains optimistic the host committee will reach its goal.

All volunteers must list their Social Security number when they fill out an online application so that police can conduct security clearances.

At their news conference Monday, the host committee announced a "The Red Carpet Convention Package" to the person who recruits the most volunteers. It will include tickets to three "of the hottest parties" during the convention: the media party, the delegate party and the committee's own reception.

For the host committee, changing the recruitment deadline to July 15, " gives us a little more time to get the word out and a little more time to qualify for the reward package," said the host committee's McFarland.

Staff researcher John Wareham contributed to this article Randy Furst • 612-673-7382

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  • Want to volunteer?

    Monday June 23, 2008

    To become a volunteer during the Republican National Convention, go to the Minneapolis St. Paul Host Committee website at www.msp2008.com, click on "volunteer" and fill out the online application.

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