Local residents who attended the national Republican and Democratic party conventions described them as a peak life experience — if a wet one.
Delegate Donna Cain of Medford, who was elected Oregon Republican National Committeewoman in 2008, said during the August convention she helped insert language into the platform calling for an expansion of timber harvests, more jobs, better national security and use of natural resources in ways that will reduce fire risk and not harm the environment.
Democratic delegate Tonya Graham of Ashland said attending the convention earlier this month was "the most exciting political event I've been to in my entire life, a huge honor ... to actually sign a ballot for a presidential nominee." She said she heard a range of inspiring speakers, at least one of whom could be nominated for the top job in the future.
Cain, an inpatient care technician at Rogue Regional Medical Center, served on the platform committee on foreign policy and defense — "a couple of very long days, with a lot of hard work" — then convened with the full platform committee, where she explained and fought for the timber harvest amendment.
Graham, originally an alternate, got a thrill when a regular delegate couldn't go and she was "slotted up," she said. But she hadn't anticipated the three long nights — till midnight — of speeches that were followed by 7:30 a.m. delegate breakfasts.
Graham said she was thrilled to hang out in the delegation with Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and see speeches by President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden.
She said she was most impressed with the stories and visions of lesser officeholders and regular citizens who spoke, especially a firefighter from Michigan, Sister Simone Campbell of the "Nuns on the Bus" tour for social justice, and the fiery former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
"They started speeches at 5 p.m. and ran past midnight," she said, "and I was so impressed with their depth, calling on everyone to be the best they can be."
Both delegates had to deal with severe weather. Cain said Republicans in Tampa, Fla., were asked to store bottled water in case power was knocked out by Hurricane Isaac, which delayed the convention by a day.
"We weren't afraid, though," she said. "We talked with the local people and there was no great fear in them. There was no problem."
When Charlotte, N.C., was being pounded with rain, Graham said that taking a bus into town was like driving through a car wash. But a high point of the week came when a local man gave her his umbrella as she prepared to exit a building.
"It wasn't political or anything," Graham recalled. "It renewed my faith in people. It was a simple yet powerful act to have a stranger help me like that — and," she joked, "it saved me from drowning."
Getting out and seeing tourist sights was not a possibility for either candidate, they said. Cain said her big interest in life is socializing, renewing old acquaintances and meeting new people at the convention.
"It gives me a brand new view of the world," she said, "and the convention certainly fired me up. I'm always fired up to help Republicans get elected. It's the answer to things that are not going so good."
The speech by Romney, she said, was "wonderful and told what his plans were for when he's president." She said vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and Sen. Rand Paul were "especially inspiring."
Graham, a nonprofit director, described the feel of the Democratic conclave as "phenomenal and sustained," adding delegates called Obama's and Clinton's talks "wow" speeches. She disagreed with pundits' description of Obama's acceptance speech as weaker than four years ago, calling it "intense and weighty" and containing the kind of things one would expect from someone who'd "been on the front lines for four years."
The GOP convention was Cain's fourth. She cast nominating ballots for Mitt Romney, whom she met last year, and for Sen. John McCain and twice for George W. Bush. She has been this state's National Committeewoman since 2008 and ran the Jackson County campaign for Bob Dole for President in 1996.