_Tampa, Fla. —_ Before Nick Kowalski was a Spartan, he was a "Mitt Romney":http://www.statenews.com/index.php/article/2012/06/presidential_candidate_romney_makes_stop_in_dewitt supporter. The political theory and constitutional democracy senior started campaigning for Romney in 2008, when the Massachusetts governor was among a lineup of many trying to secure the GOP nomination.
Before he ever organized conservative activists on campus, Kowalski was out doing fieldwork for the Michigan native’s presidential campaign.
After more than four years, Kowalski’s work finally will pay off Thursday night, when he is expected to see Romney accept the party nomination live at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in front of a world audience.
With Michigan looking increasingly like a need-to-win swing state in November, MSU students, alumni and university leaders are, in their own ways, influencing the dynamic of the convention.
On Tuesday, delegates made the long-expected vote to nominate Romney as their party pick. The real action will come when Mitt Romney closes the convention with his keynote speech — which could be his biggest opportunity to connect with voters before Nov. 6.
“He may not be a celebrity or a rock star like the incumbent thinks he is at times,” Kowalski said. “But he’s a businessman and he’s here for one reason and one reason only, and that is to turn the economy around.”
Two months before the election, Michigan is shaping up to be a key battleground state, one that some have suggested is being underestimated by political experts and pundits.
A poll released Sunday shows Romney and President Barack Obama in a dead heat for Michigan at an even 47 percent each.
Winning Michigan’s 16 electoral votes likely would be a tipping point for Romney in getting the 270 votes required to win.
Republican leaders are trying to gain support from the Michigan GOP. The Michigan delegation landed a front-row center spot — literally the best seats in the house — for headlining speeches, including Romney’s.
With Michigan "playing such a central role in this particular convention":http://www.statenews.com/index.php/article/2012/08/gov-_rick_snyder_attends_michigan_delegation_breakfast_during_republican_national_convention, it’s only natural that party leaders with connections to MSU, the state’s largest university, are having influence, too.
*An unexpected influence*
State Rep. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, didn’t have, by normal standards, a positive college experience at MSU.
More than a decade since she left East Lansing, it helped to shape her beliefs and influence the party’s new pro-life platform, which has proven to be one of the most contentious intraparty debates for this convention.
As a first generation college student coming from a poor family in Kalamazoo County, she had to pay her entire way through James Madison College by working 30 hours per week and taking out student loans.
Things got even more complicated for O’Brien during her senior year when she accidentally got pregnant. A private counselor urged her to get an abortion or face being miserable for the rest of her life.
“My feet had been held to the fire,” O’Brien recalled. “The counselor told me I wouldn’t amount to anything.”
She decided to keep the baby; a decision that changed the course of her life for the better, she said.
“This child has meant so much to me,” she said of her now 16-year-old son. “He is the reason I am an elected official. God turned a poor decision of mine into the best thing I’ve ever had in my life.”
As one of 30 voting delegates at this year’s convention, O’Brien voted for the party’s new pro-life platform that does not include exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
O’Brien also counsels young women who are unexpectedly pregnant. At the Michigan delegation’s breakfast event Tuesday, she told a story of one 15-year-old girl in her district who decided to keep her child.
O’Brien said she rejects accusations from left-wing pundits and politicians that the new pro-life platform discriminates against women.
“It’s all about what sells a story and what the political hacks want us to believe,” O’Brien said. “And as a woman, I find it offensive.”
*A party rebel*
Although Ethan Davis is in East Lansing – more than 1,000 miles away from the convention, he still contributed to some convention mischief.
As a precinct delegate for East Lansing, he headed an effort to push through a delegate who joined a small but adamant group Tuesday seeking to oust Romney and the GOP mainstreamers by voting for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
Although the vote was merely symbolic, 190 delegates voted for Paul in the roll call vote that resulted in Romney’s nomination.
Davis slipped into a delegate spot at the state convention, when he showed up unannounced to fill a vacant seat. There he nominated six delegates — all Ron Paul supporters — one of which was sent through to the national convention.
“The movement was a lot bigger this time,” Davis said. “He got more votes, more supporters, the rallies were different. ... Ron Paul is more than a politician — he’s a communicator.”
Tension between Paul supporters and party mainstreamers caused a rift on the convention floor Wednesday. Delegates supporting Paul started a protest chant when he showed up on the floor, and groups of young protestors walked around the blocks outside the convention center.
But the majority of delegates, if nothing else, see Romney as solution to an America in backslide. Linda Lee Tarver of Ingham County, a Michigan delegate at large, said as a mother of a recent MSU alumna, she knows why students like her daughter should care about politics.
The national debt should be of particular relevance to students, she said.
“When Republicans talk about the debt, that’s (college students’) debt, not mine,” Tarver said. “Those graduating from MSU think they have a great future when in reality, you cannot put that much debt on a family.”
_State News reporter Kellie Rowe contributed to this report._
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