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One Delegate's White-Knuckle Ride Through the Convention

Second of several articles detailing how the Republican convention looks through the eyes of a single delegate.

The Republican convention has been an emotional roller coaster that has left Sheila Carroll transformed.

In the space of a week, the first-time delegate from California's Central Valley has gone from being deeply disturbed by the harsh battles over abortion in the party's platform committee to being uplifted by the stirring call for tolerance delivered Aug. 12 by retired Gen. Colin Powell.

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"I'm not going to be the same person I was before," announces Ms. Carroll.

This Modesto housewife and long-time activist in the California Federation of Republican Women is one of 4,000 delegates and alternates at the San Diego convention. Beyond the speeches seen on television screens, the convention is unfolding for Sheila Carroll as an exhausting, often exhilarating experience, crowded from morning to night with delegation meetings, convention sessions, and countless parties.

For Carroll, the ride began last week when she was thrust into the middle of the battle between the Christian right and moderate Republicans over the issue of abortion rights.

California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) asked Carroll, one of two representatives from the state on the platform committee, to present his proposed amendment in support of a woman's right to choose.

Slam-dunked on abortion

As the committee's deliberations opened, "I still held out the hope that there was a fair shot for everyone's point of view on that particular issue," she recalls. Instead Carroll found a process completely controlled by the fierce defenders of opponents of abortion. "It was a slam dunk - it was over before it even began," she says.

More than just a stacked deck, Carroll encountered an "arrogance" and an intolerance that still leaves her shaking with anger.

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"I thought we all were on the same team, that we all wanted the same outcome - to just get the best Republicans we could get," she says.

"I didn't care about the pro-choice or pro-life issue. I knew it was there but I didn't know how oppressive it was when ... you couldn't express your opinion," she says. "I can imagine how people in Germany must have felt when Hitler started coming in. It had that 'You're not as good as the blond-haired, blue-eyed kind of people' feeling."

On Aug. 7, Governor Wilson and other moderates retreated behind a pale compromise that created an appendix to the platform containing their discarded proposals. "This is a crumb but it's a step forward," says a soft-spoken but politically wiser Carroll.

"I'm not a rabble-rouser, but I've had it," she adds, vowing to be back next time more ready to fight. "I'm not for abortion but I'm for choice. Women have a right to have a voice in what they want to do."

Over the weekend, Carroll regrouped and prepared herself for the opening of the full convention. Her son and his fiance visited, bearing flowers. "They knew it had been a very stressful, painful, hard-working week," she says.

Pep talks and beach party

On Aug. 10, the rest of the California delegation arrived and Carroll was cheered by the support of her fellow federation women. On Aug. 11, the delegation met, briefed by George Shultz, former secretary of State and Treasury, on Bob Dole's recently announced economic plan. And their spirits and hopes were buoyed by Wilson's predictions of a victory for the newly announced team of Dole and vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp.

Kemp was a needed boost for the Republican Party, says Carroll, a view widely shared by her fellow delegates. Bolstered, the Californian joined the other delegates at a Sunday afternoon beach party, done up in a '50s theme complete with old Chevies, drive-in treats, and Frankie Avalon singing the virtues of beach blankets. "It was really fun," she says.

Front-row seat

When the convention opened its first full session on Aug. 12, Carroll was glued to her seat in the second row, just beneath and to the right of the podium. "I haven't missed anything," she says with a smile. "This may never happen again."

The highlight of Carroll's convention trip so far came on the convention's opening night with the crescendo of speeches from former Presidents Gerald Ford and George Bush and the emotional appearance of Nancy Reagan in place of her ailing husband.

It culminated with General Powell's powerful address, recounting his journey from poverty in Harlem to the head of the nation's military. For Carroll, the daughter of an Army officer, it was an emotional moment, reinforced by Powell's open declaration of his pro-choice and pro-affirmative action views.

"People were wild and waving Dole-Kemp signs. It was a high, just like a mountain climber would feel when he reached the top of the mountain. And I take great pride in his representing my Republican Party. It's people like that I want to be the image of what I stand for, a pro-choice Christian."

The first article in this series appeared on Aug. 9.

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