J.P. "Gus" Godsey is happy to be an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention. The Virginia Beach stockbroker is ecstatic about President Bush, says the Iraq war is going "spectacularly well" and is supremely confident about the president's chances to win Virginia in November.
Then again, Godsey is happy about pretty much everything. He was, after all, named "happiest man in America" last year by USA Weekend magazine.
But his zeal is typical of Virginia's 125 delegates to the party convention in New York. The 81 men and 44 women, ranging from a 78-year-old party elder to an 18-year-old college student, from local operatives to former governor James S. Gilmore III, are ready to fight for a state that Democrats say might be within their reach this year for the first time in four decades.
"I'm confident, but I know we have some work ahead of us," said Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, delegation chairman. "As Virginians return from summer vacations, they will focus on the race. When it comes to presidential elections, they vote on values. The president will be fine in Virginia."
Republicans are coming together after a fractious session of the General Assembly this year, where GOP majorities in both houses were rived over a plan to raise taxes to plug a hole in the state budget.
"The party is divided right now because of the Republicans who have supported tax increases," Gilmore said. "That is something that has to be watched. But that is a matter to be put aside and discussed another day. This is about reelecting the president."
In 2000, Bush bested Al Gore 52 percent to 44 percent in the commonwealth. This year, though, strategists for Sen. John F. Kerry and leading state Democrats are convinced that they have a shot at Virginia's 13 electoral votes. They cite dissatisfaction among veterans, rural job loss and the changing demographics of Northern Virginia.
Kate Obenshain Griffin, GOP state chairman, said they are wrong on every count. The state's economy is turning around, she said, citing a $324 million surplus announced this week.
"On economic issues we win and on veterans issues, my goodness, we are very strong there," she said from a cell phone in the back of a New York taxicab.
"Virginians are going to embrace continuing the president's policies, and they respect the president's strength on national security and his clarity of vision and purpose."
She and others characterized Kerry as a liberal tax-and-spender, albeit one who voted against money for building submarines in Virginia and for troops in Iraq.
"These are things that put him directly at odds with Virginians," Griffin said.
Godsey was named "happiest man" by the magazine after a series of personality tests that revealed an extraordinary sense of optimism and life satisfaction.
He said he is supporting Bush over Kerry for a singular, simple reason. "He's just a man of principle," he said. "People feel safer with Bush fighting the war on terror than John Kerry and the United Nations.
"But being the happiest guy in America, I don't talk negative. I just know that [Kerry's] voting record is too liberal. I'd love to go to a ballgame and have a beer with him, though."
The youngest member of the delegation is Mary P. Jones, a college freshman from Vienna. Although she just became eligible to vote two days ago, when she turned 18, she said it was important to attend the convention to support Bush.
"He has unbelievable leadership skills that this country really needs right now," Jones said.
She comes from a politically active family, having worked on her first campaign when she was 6 years old. And someday she hopes to be the Republican presidential nominee, although that won't be legally possible until 2024.
Jones said she is in no rush.
"I wouldn't run the first time I was eligible," she said. "I want to work my way up through the ranks."