When former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney officially accepts the Republican nomination for the presidency tonight in Tampa, thousands of delegates from across the country, dressed in the costumery of their home states, will be on hand to cheer him on.
Romney's adopted home state of Massachusetts will be well-represented on the convention floor, but so too will the pages, delegates, onlookers, and even candidates affiliated with Harvard University—a quieter, more loosely defined delegation tied to the Bay State and the presidential hopeful's past. Though in varying capacities and associations, from page to presidential nominee, the traditionally left-leaning University has made its mark on the largest Republican event of the election season.
The most unified of these groups, Harvard College's Institute of Politics, has sponsored several events in Tampa this week, including a forum on politics and the media and a reception for Harvard and IOP affiliates past and present on hand for the convention. The group cancelled a scheduled page lunch because of the convention's abbreviated schedule due to Hurricane Isaac.
“The IOP will hold similar events at next week's Democratic National Convention as it has in conventions past,” said IOP Director C.M. "Trey" Grayson '94.
The convention serves as an opportunity to both reconnect with alumni and to form new relationships with potential future speakers or fellows, according to Grayson.
Back in Cambridge, the IOP hosted watch parties for each of the major convention speeches this week, Grayson said. It will do so again next week, capitalizing on students return to campus to jump-start political activities.
"It is a kick-off for us. This is where the timing with the beginning of the semester actually helps," Grayson said.
In Tampa, Grayson said he hopes the IOP can help to bring together what is otherwise a very loose network. While many of the delegates and support staff have Harvard ties, they rarely connect on those grounds, which often go unnoticed.
Stephen E. Dewey '07, a New York software engineer, co-founded the Harvard Republican Alumni Network (HRAN) during the 2008 election cycle to try to change that. The group has since ballooned to 600 members from an initial 50. Dewey stressed that it is not an advocacy group—HRAN has no bank account and is not allowed to collect funds—but it has become a significant networking organization for politically minded Republicans, sponsoring social events and publishing a monthly newsletter with job listings and organization news.
The RNC in Tampa provided the interest group, whose members are scattered across the country, an opportunity to gather under one roof. Of the 22 HRAN members in Tampa this week, Dewey said 12 met for a dinner Monday.
"We primarily exist to serve the alumni," Dewey said. "We're happy to help a campaign if it's running. Our goal is not to push any particular activity, but to help the alumni in whatever they choose to do."
In many cases that means connecting alumni running for office with an interested audience of fellow alums. When Ted Cruz, a Harvard Law School alumnus, declared his candidacy for U.S. Senate in Texas, HRAN organized a conference call for members interested in talking with Cruz. Though no money changed hands, Dewey said the call was a win-win. Interested members had unusual access to a high-profile candidate, and the candidate made his case to a receptive, well-connected audience.
For Republicans still in school, the convention was an opportunity to see political theater up close and rub-shoulders with party leaders. Grayson, who left the convention prematurely Tuesday afternoon to return to Cambridge for freshmen advising, said the timing of this year's party conventions and its conflict with the start of school probably stifled student involvement.
Still, Grayson said he estimates 10 or so current students and recent graduates are at the convention. Grayson said he expects even more students at next week's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The Democrats typically draw a larger crowd than their Republican counterparts, necessitating more pages, aides, and interns, which are roles commonly filled by students.
Katerina Glyptis '14, an IOP Director's intern for the RNC's Committee on Arrangements, is one of those students. She has been in Florida most of the summer in preparation for what Hurricane Isaac whittled down to three speech-filled days. Glyptis spent most of the summer working with the committee's production department, securing credentials, transportation, and hotel rooms for the convention's production staff, in addition to conducting some political research on the side, all in an effort to make the party's biggest showcase look effortless.
Watching the once-empty Tampa Bay Times Forum, home of the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning, transformed into a large television studio, Glyptis said she has been amazed by the amount of work put in long before the delegates and TV cameras show up.
"I'm going to make a point to be out there when I want to be out there," Glyptis said. "It's exciting to see the back of it, but a large portion is standing out there and seeing the completion after weeks of preparation."
Though the summer was not as political as she expected, Glyptis, who identified herself as a Republican, said it was an amazing experience.
"It's something that only happens only once every four years, so I knew I wouldn't have another chance to do something like this while I'm in college," she said.
—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.