Hudson Valley Republicans strive for unity on way to RNC

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), center, and the

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), center, and the stage manager pose for a photograph at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Florida, during final preparations for the opening of the Republican National Convention. (Aug. 27, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

New York's Republicans are ready to rumble in Tampa.

As they left for the Republican National Convention, which starts in Tampa on Tuesday, more than a few of the New Yorkers were talking about the need to get the national party focused on fiscal and economic issues -- not the social and family-oriented issues popular among extreme conservatives.

Over the weekend, RNC officials announced that the convention would open Monday but recess until the next afternoon to make way for Tropical Storm Isaac, projected to hit the Florida Keys on Sunday on its way into the Gulf of Mexico.


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State Sen. Greg Ball, a Patterson Republican and delegate from the 19th Congressional District, said social issues such as abortion and gay marriage have proved "divisive" for Republicans.

"If you're going to build a big tent, you've got to stay focused on the issues that stand as the bedrock of the party, that unite us and make us appealing to independent and moderate voters," said Ball. "While social issues are fun for some people to talk about, at a water cooler or on a talk show, what really matters is making sure that people can pay their mortgage, send their kids to college or get a job."

Montebello Village Mayor Jeff Oppenheim, an alternate delegate from the 17th Congressional District, spoke of the need to stimulate economic growth with new incentives for business and of the exploding national debt. Oppenheim, too, sees the social issues as a distraction.

"The reason I'm a Republican is not because I want to tell other people how to live their lives," Oppenheim said. "I'm a Republican because I don't want the government telling me how to live my life."

Rockland County GOP chairman Vincent Reda, a delegate from the 18th Congressional District, said New York's Republican delegation is firmly behind Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is the party's presumptive nominee.

"It's Romney all the way," he said. "We're going to nominate him and win back the White House in November."

While a focus on jobs and the economy would probably suit the nominee, Republicans in the South and West espouse social issues with religious zeal.

The Republican platform won't be formally announced until the convention begins, but members of the committee that put the platform together have commented publicly about provisions that would make the platform one of the most conservative ever.

One provision that has stirred controversy even within the party is a plank that opposes abortion without mention of exceptional circumstances, such as rape, incest, or instances where the life of the mother may be at risk. Adoption of that plank by the platform committee prompted some members of the committee to speak out publicly for a more flexible and tolerant approach.

Barbara Ann Fenton, a 31-year-old physical therapist from Rhode Island, voted against the abortion plank, and against a second plank defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Fenton later stated publicly that the platform finally adopted may prove to be a liability for the party in the fall.

"If we seek tolerance on some of these social issues, it will lead to a stronger Republican Party," Fenton told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Earlier this week, Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri, ventured the opinion that a woman's body can prevent pregnancy biologically, in cases of "legitimate rape." Akin's comments had to do with his view that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape.

Akin faced a storm of criticism over his remarks, but refused to exit the Missouri race, even when asked to do so by Romney's designated running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

And soon the Obama campaign was pointing out that Ryan and Akin were allies.

"As a Republican leader in the House, Paul Ryan worked with Todd Akin to try to narrow the definition of rape and outlaw abortion even for rape victims," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith. "He may hope that American women never learn about this record, but they deserve an answer to why he wanted to redefine rape and remove protections for rape victims."

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, a delegate representing the 17th Congressional District, said he believes Republicans across the country are united behind the goal of "beating Barack Obama" despite party divisions over the social issues.

"And New York has an important role to play in this convention," he said. "While the state itself might not be key as compared to Florida and others, I think New York Republicans are very important to the Romney-Paul ticket."

New York Republicans will be represented with 95 delegates and 92 alternates, ranking the official delegation third in size, behind Texas and California. That's before guests, dignitaries, and partygoers are counted. New York's GOP chairman Ed Cox named an additional 34 "at-large" delegates -- chosen for their support of party activities and fundraising efforts -- including former Gov. George Pataki, billionaire David Koch, Orange County Executive Ed Diana, Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro and Katonah business mogul Andrew Saul.

"In the end, we're going to have a delegation of about 450 coming from New York," said Michael Lawler, executive director of the New York Republican Party. "People are really excited about supporting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan."

The official delegates were picked by GOP leaders earlier this year to represent each of the state's 29 congressional districts.

Republican officials expect the convention to draw some 45,000 delegates, politicians and news media to the Tampa Bay area. The convention is expected cost more than $100 million, paid for with about $50 million in federal funds, to cover security, and about $55 million in private funding.

Police officials in Tampa expect thousands of protesters and have beefed up the force with officers on loan from police departments across Florida.

Democrats will nominate President Obama at the party's convention from Sept. 3-7 in Charlotte, N.C.

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