Reporting Jay Levine
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TAMPA, Fla. (CBS) – For Illinois GOP delegates, getting to the Republican National Convention in Tampa was a pain on Tuesday, but once inside, the delegation’s chairman had a little fun.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports it was a rocky beginning for the Illinois delegates. As the clocked ticked toward the 2 p.m. start of Tuesday’s opening session, delegates were left waiting for buses that were an hour late.
When one finally arrived, it couldn’t take everyone, leaving Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who is chairing the delegation, to check credentials, before boarding himself, for the 45-minute drive to the convention floor.
By then, it was less than an hour before the gavel would call the convention to order.
“I’ll take the wheel if I have to,” Rutherford joked as he boarded the bus.
The delegates had already dealt with protestors from Illinois, who got onstage during the morning’s breakfast, calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage.
“That’s all we’re trying to do, have minimum wage to be raised. That’s all. They won’t listen to us where we at, so we just came all the way down here so we could just get our voice heard,” protester Tamiko Edwards said.
In the end, the delegation didn’t make it to the convention in time for the start, arriving just after the session began.
Rutherford still had some time to reflect on exactly how he, as chairman, would stand up and cast the state’s votes for mitt Romney.
Before the convention started, Rutherford said he planned to say, “On behalf of the great state of Illinois, the home of Abraham Lincoln, the home of Ronald Reagan, and the home of soon-to-be the immediate past President of the United States, Illinois casts unanimous votes for Mitt Romney.”
“We are very, very proud – as Republicans – of Ronald Reagan, abundantly proud of Abraham Lincoln,” he said, omitting Illinois’ other President, Barack Obama. “It’s abundantly important for us to have Mitt Romney be the President of the United States.”
When his turn to cast Illinois’ votes at the convention actually came up, Rutherford worded it a bit differently.
“We’re the home of Abraham Lincoln. We’re the birthplace of Ronald Reagan,” he said. “I want all of you to think about January 20th, 2013. You’re going to be watching the television sets, and it’s going to be a cold, bitter, winter day in Illinois. At about 11 o’clock Central Time, you’re going to see the Supreme Court Justice of the United States walking out. You’re going to see Mitt and Ann Romney watching out. He’s going to raise his right hand and become the next leader of the free world, and shortly after that, a Marine helicopter is going to land at the Capitol and lift out of Washington, D.C., Michelle and Barack Obama. We’re going to bring them back and we’re the state of the soon to be immediate past President of the United States of America.”
Rutherford said he simply wanted to add a bit of humor to what is normally a staid routine when delegates officially cast their votes for a presidential candidate at party conventions.
As both the chair of the Illinois delegation and of Romney’s campaign in Illinois, Rutherford probably knows Romney better than any other Illinois delegate.
“He’s funny. He’s a humorous guy,” Rutherford said. Although Rutherford said he doesn’t know if Romney’s campaign has been hurt by not having showed off his sense of humor more often, he said “I think it would help” Romney to show it off more often.
“I think it would be good, and I would hope that this convention – and I would hope that as we proceed through the next number of weeks – that that will come through,” Rutherford said.
Romney arrived in Tampa earlier on Tuesday. His wife, Ann, will speak to the crowd during Tuesday night’s session. He hopes the convention will give him a boost in the race against President Barack Obama, and even help provide a strong showing in Illinois.
Retired GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert said predictions of Obama sweeping Illinois are premature.
“Just as we saw a surge four years ago – a lot of people that we never thought would vote for Barack Obama did – I don’t think those people will be there today,” Hastert said.