Forty-four years ago this month, a 21-year-old Edward Cox, then only the boyfriend of Tricia Nixon, the leading presidential candidate's elder daughter, enjoyed a ringside seat to history at the Republican National Convention in Miami.
This week, Cox attends the first GOP Florida convention in 40 years as the 65-year-old leader of a New York delegation to Tampa that includes such widely known figures as billionaire industrialist David Koch, former Gov. George Pataki and ex-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.
Cox, now in his third year as Republican state chairman, vividly recalls the scene at the 1968 and 1972 parleys. The first of the two had competitive flesh-and-blood politics that no longer seems to reach the convention hall.
"It had the excitement of a contested nomination," Cox recalls. Nixon was confident he'd have the delegates, he said. Still, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and California Gov. Ronald Reagan had loyal followings and made some moves in Miami. Sen. Clifford Case of New Jersey also had his name put forward. Months earlier, Michigan Gov. George Romney -- father of this week's nominee-to-be Mitt Romney -- dropped out after his own campaign sputtered.
The next convention had "a different feel," Cox says, because "there was no doubt who the nominee was. It was a foregone conclusion." But even in a convention well-scripted from the White House, "things happen ad hoc," he learned. A number of young people were ready to fill the aisles to cheer the president's acceptance speech, but Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas, then RNC chairman, conveyed a concern that they might cheer too long and loud -- and perhaps mess up the pace of the televised speech, Cox recalls. With the president preparing to speak, no one was around to make a decision. Cox says he thought hard and told Dole it would be OK to go ahead as planned. Fortunately, it worked, and the president "hit that first cheer line and they stopped right as they should."
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