Think the GOP convention was exhausting? Try attending 10 of them

David Martosko Executive Editor
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TAMPA, Fla. — Like an unofficial Wal-Mart greeter, 73-year-old Carl Toepel sat at a table near the entrance to the Tampa Bay Times Forum holding a green sign reading “My 10th National Republican Convention.”

“I was a delegate for McCain in 2008, but this year I’m a guest,” Toepel told The Daily Caller. “My seat is in the attic, but I don’t care. It’s wonderful.”

Political junkies love to handicap races, and the retired elementary school teacher put his oar in, but not before saying hello to Michael Lenn, chief of staff to Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.

Toepel was Lenn’s principal in the early 1980s. He stood aside while the older man looked into the crystal ball of his mind.

“My prediction this evening after hearing Paul Ryan from my native state [on Wednesday night]: It will be close, but Wisconsin is going to turn red and give it to Romney,” Toepel said confidently.

“And we will get the fifty-first Republican senator with Tommy Thompson, our former governor. And when that happens, we’re going to have him over for coffee at our home in Pigeon Lake.”

Wearing red “W” cap with two Romney/Ryan buttons pinned on, the Sheboygan, Wisc., native showed off a list of his political experiences stretching back to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1956 nominating convention.

“I missed a few of them,” he said. “My first was when I was 17 years old in ’56. I was an ‘assistant doorkeeper’ for the Eisenhower-Nixon convention. They didn’t have all this sophisticated security.”

Toepel called Eisenhower’s speech that year “the most memorable one” he could recall.

After attending the 1960 GOP convention as a visitor, he was the event’s Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms in 1964. His big moment as a delegate came four years ago in St. Paul, Minn., but he was an alternate during the three conventions directly preceding that one.

Alternate delegates don’t often have access to the convention floor, but in 2000 Toepel got a special treat when former California Rep. Bob Dornan invited him to join his wife as a guest in WMUR-TV’s skybox.

He was a Gerald Ford campaign volunteer in 1976. “The floor fight with Ronald Reagan wasn’t pleasant,” he recalled. “I think Reagan should have done more for Ford in the fall campaign, and President Ford would have been elected on his own.”

The 2012 convention, he said, was missing just one thing: 2008 vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

“I liked Sarah Palin [in 2008] and I liked that she was a governor,” he explained. “But I was disappointed ’cause she retired. She would be here tonight, and people would love her, but she left [Alaska] so she’s not here.”

“I think the main reason is that she doesn’t hold an office. She’s just on the speaking circuit.”

Toepel isn’t just a convention-addict: He’s also a habitual collector of political memorabilia.

“I have confetti from the floors of conventions. I have signs from all the conventions,” he said. And now that he’s older, he’s giving much of it away.

“I’m in the process of donating my collections,” he told TheDC. In February he gave Lakeland College in Wisconsin his stockpile of buttons, signs and invitations from presidential inaugurations dating back 100 years.

“The Smithsonian already has my United States Senate collection. … I have campaign buttons, stickers or pens from every senator who has run in the last 25 years.”

And Toepel isn’t getting them on eBay.

“I’m not a computer person,” he said. “I write them letters, donate a dollar to their campaigns for postage, and — it was something I got hooked on. Some people collect stamps. Some people collect postcards. I collected senators.

“My kids are interested in politics, but — you know — not like me.”

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