NEW YORK - Karoline Beckeris was all smiles this week as she sat only a few yards away from her political heroes.
As an Alaska delegate to this week's Republican National Convention, the fifth-grade teacher from Sitka was almost euphoric from her proximity to former President George H. W. Bush, former first lady Barbara Bush and former U.S. Sen. and Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, all of whom sat in a tightly guarded booth near the Alaska delegation.
"If you're a Republican, this is a candy store," Beckeris quipped.
Most other Alaskans attending the four-day event at New York's Madison Square Garden gave high marks to the city's lid-tight security and the convention's focus on re-electing President George W. Bush.
"Being in New York, the hospitality has been outstanding," said delegate Susan Bell of Juneau. "Despite the fact that there have been protests that have been broadcast, we feel really welcome. It's invigorating to be in this city."
From their quarters at the Sheraton Manhattan, the Alaska delegation has seen several waves of activists march by, denouncing everything from the war in Iraq to the federal prosecution and conviction of domestic maven Martha Stewart on obstruction of justice charges.
Still, most of the large-scale protests remained a good 25 city blocks south of the delegation's hotel, leaving many to simply enjoy the week and gear up for a heavy round of campaigning for GOP candidates during the next two months.
Beckeris gave high marks to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's speech to the convention on Monday night in which he praised Bush's leadership in the days and years following the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
"I thought he was fantastic about why we need George W. Bush in there because of the war on terror, what he's doing, what he did for our country and for the world," Beckeris said. "I really totally believe you cannot wait for the terrorists to come to you. They do not understand negotiation. You cannot negotiate, I believe, with dictatorships or tyrannies."
Connie McKenzie, also a delegate from Juneau, defended Bush's economic record, which has been heavily attacked by Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry as a system designed to favor the rich, not the middle class.
Yet McKenzie says Bush's track record has helped put the economy on a better path.
"He made decisions quickly. Tax cuts were passed trying to get the economy rolling again. I think it's showing now that it's recovering," she said. "I just think that things have turned around and are going better than when he took office. His decisions to act quickly really helped that."
Alaskan Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich said he expects his home state to once again go Bush as it did in 2000, when Alaska voters backed Bush nearly 2-1 over Democratic Vice President Al Gore.
Ruedrich said he thinks a strong performance by Bush in Alaska will help Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in her campaign against Democratic challenger and former Gov. Tony Knowles.
However, Amy L. Lovecraft, a University of Alaska Fairbanks political science professor said it's unlikely Bush's election battle will play a deciding role in the Murkowski-Knowles race.
"I would say that because Alaska is already largely a Republican state in terms of its most recent voting patterns ... it would mean that Alaska is going to be fairly independent of the success or failure of the Bush campaign," she said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Bush is scheduled to accept his party's presidential nomination tonight, while Kerry is set to launch a major round of ads over the Labor Day weekend.
The general election is Nov. 2.
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