PHILADELPHIA - Maryland House Del. John R. Leopold remembers his hotel room phone ringing 24 years ago at the Republican National Convention in Kansas City to find President Gerald R. Ford on the line.
Locked in a battle for his political life, Ford was calling convention delegates hoping to secure their votes over challenger Ronald Reagan. Ford won the nomination, but in light of recent events, Leopold also remembers that one of the men in the room with Ford was Dick Cheney.
Now the running mate of Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, Cheney served as a Ford aide.
"Isn't it amazing how the cycle comes around?" Leopold said.
This week's four-day, $65 million Republican convention is Leopold's seventh consecutive. The Pasadena resident, who once served in the Hawaii state House and Senate and ran for governor there, believes the Republicans leave Philadelphia today united for the first time in years.
Conservatives and moderates like himself have been able to put their differences aside in an effort to win back the White House, he said.
"Today there is an excitement and unity because the delegates sense victory," Leopold said. "Bush, to his credit, has been able to unite the party."
Delegates left the 1996 Republican convention in San Diego with little confidence that their nominee, former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, could knock off incumbent President Bill Clinton, Leopold said. And despite a booming economy that traditionally translates into a political lock for an incumbent administration, Leopold believes that Bush has the one trait needed to win swing voters: likeability.
Gore comes across as artificial and insincere, Leopold said.
"Bush is the guy in the back of the class shooting spitballs," Leopold joked. "Gore is the one in the front of the class telling the teacher. People tend to like the guy blowing the spitballs."
At the final convention breakfast yesterday, Leopold reminisced about attending seven of the 37 Republican conventions held. He remembered Detroit in 1980 when he ran down on the convention floor and threw a lei around actress Elizabeth Taylor.
He called Dallas in 1984 the most united Republican convention he attended. In the election that followed, Reagan and Vice President George Bush rolled over Democratic nominee Walter F. Mondale and his running mate, Geraldine A. Ferraro. And 1988 in New Orleans stood out as memorable, Leopold said, because of one man: Bush running mate Dan Quayle.
"Quayle was the convention," Leopold said. "They jumped on him like piranhas on a pork chop."
Leopold, 57, lost a wallet full of cash at the Republican National Convention in Houston in 1992, only to have it returned by a bus driver. The newspaper wrote a story about the incident.
"Houston and Dallas had such an ongoing rivalry that the headline at the time in the Houston Chronicle read `That Wouldn't Happen in Dallas,'" Leopold said, chuckling.