NEW YORK, Sept. 2 -- They probably went unnoticed amid the Stetson-wearing Texan delegates and the hundreds of supporters wearing pachyderm emblazoned T-shirts, but then again, the international delegates at the Republican National Convention said they are here to observe and learn.
More than 160 of them traveled to New York to attend the convention as part of delegation organized by the International Democrat Union, an umbrella group of conservative parties from around the world.
"We have delegates here from Britain, Germany, Australia, Canada, Spain, France, Tanzania, South Korea, Japan, Chile and Ghana, amongst others," said Richard Normington, an IDU official.
The IDU, which was founded in 1983 by Margaret Thatcher, President George H.W. Bush and others, has been sending delegates to Republican conventions for some time, said William Hague, former leader of Britain's Conservative Party and deputy chairman of the IDU.
For the international delegates, it is a chance to meet with U.S. representatives, attend briefings with polling and campaign specialists, and network with like-minded politicians, Hague said.
"It's a tremendous opportunity to build on long-standing relations and friendships across the parties in addition to learning from American campaign and polling techniques, which are the most advanced in the world," he said.
Hague shrugged off speculation that a rift had developed between his party leader, Michael Howard, and the Bush administration after it emerged that senior White House adviser Karl Rove told Howard's aides in February: "You can forget about meeting the president. Don't bother coming. You are not meeting him."
Rove's apparent snub followed Howard's call for British Prime Minister Tony Blair to "seriously consider his position" as prime minister over the Iraq war.
Howard did not attend the convention, instead the Conservative Party contingent from Britain included Chairman Liam Fox and a number of frontbenchers.
"The relationship between Republicans and British conservatives goes much broader and deeper than any little spat," Hague said. "I don't think we have to worry much about an intemperate moment, if that's what it was."
For many of the delegates, the sheer spectacle and ceremony of a U.S. convention was a major draw.
"The conventions are entirely different to anything else in the world in terms of scale and budget," Hague said. "There is a real carnival atmosphere, it's far more colorful and it feels more like being at a concert than a political gathering. At the same time it's brilliantly organized and synchronized."