Two from Cape going to Denver convention

Sunday, August 24, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ Rick Althaus, left, and John Heisserer will represent Cape Girardeau as delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

In the not-so-distant past, a candidate for president won or lost a political party's nomination for president at its national convention.

Today, national conventions are highly orchestrated affairs that ratify the choice made by voters and party activists in primaries and caucuses held early in the year. The days are filled with receptions and policy briefings, the nights with speeches extolling the virtues of the party and its candidate.

The prospect of attending a convention where the message is carefully managed hasn't diminished the enthusiasm of Cape Girardeau lawyer John Heisserer and Southeast Missouri State University political science professor Rick Althaus, who will attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver this week. Heisserer was elected as a delegate supporting U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive nominee, while Althaus supported U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama's chief rival for the nomination.

Both men said in a joint interview Friday that they will take their responsibilities seriously, attending every session and trying to be attentive during the parade of speakers. "I am a college professor," Althaus said. "I expect people to sit through my speeches, so I can sit through theirs."

Both men expect the highlight of the week will be Obama's acceptance speech, which will be delivered Thursday night in Mile High Stadium, a break from the tradition of the candidate addressing the delegates in their convention hall.

"You really have to admire his ability to speak in complete sentences," Heisserer said. "I think that is something the country is longing for."

The speech, Althaus said, will be Obama's chance to inspire, heal the wounds of the hard-fought nomination battle and present his vision for the nation.

Flood of invitations

For both men, it will be their first time attending a national party convention. Since being named as delegates, they said they have been inundated with invitations, solicitations and other materials aimed at delegates. Heisserer said he tossed most of the mailings in the trash; Althaus said he intends to do the same but hasn't gotten around to it. Some of the items are intriguing, Althaus said. He intends to take part in a service project organized for delegates while they are in Denver.

While the convention outcome is not in doubt, both men said they will vote for their respective candidates during the roll call on the nomination. Clinton supporters plan to put her name up despite her concession of the race and endorsement of Obama.

"I'm not required to do so by party rules, but by conscience I am," Althaus said of his plans to stick with Clinton. "I was chosen to be a Clinton delegate."

Because Democratic delegates are awarded based on a proportional system, Heisserer will be the only Obama delegate among the four delegates and one alternate elected from the 8th Congressional District. Statewide, the delegate division based on the Feb. 5 primary is a 36-36 split.

The Republican Party avoided a similar split by awarding all of Missouri's delegates to the winner of the primary, U.S. Sen. John McCain.

Neither Heisserer nor Althaus thinks the Democratic Party should embrace a winner-take-all system.

And neither has a strong preference for a vice presidential candidate. From the names he has heard mentioned in news stories, Heisserer said he'd be satisfied with any of the prospects. "They would all be good choices for Sen. Obama. It will be a good opportunity to bring the party together and show unity."

Obama announced Saturday that Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware will be his running mate.

And while neither Heisserer nor Althaus, both of whom have been candidates for office, expects Obama to carry the counties of the 8th District in November, they said the campaign team Obama has in place will gain enough on the GOP to surprise people.

Heisserer noted that Obama has had an office in Cape Girardeau open for several weeks and offices are open in rural communities across the state. Obama's visit to Cape Girardeau in May shows he isn't conceding the region to McCain, Heisserer said. He also anticipates another visit to Southeast Missouri during the fall campaign.

"I think you will be very surprised come November," he said.

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