Security is tight but everyone is super friendly - here's what we noticed on Day 1 at the RNC

Posted at 7:23 AM, Jul 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-19 08:16:02-04

CLEVELAND -- I didn’t know what to expect when I headed to Cleveland Sunday to cover my first national party convention. Would feuding protesters and supporters overrun the city before we arrived? Would disgruntled delegates unhappy with Donald Trump’s nomination put a total damper on a traditionally upbeat week? Would covering my first Republican National Convention be a total bust?

My presumptions have been replaced with surprises – so far – throughout my first two days here. Here are my biggest takeaways during WCPO’s first 24 hours at the Republican National Convention:

Quiet around the Q

Monday was thin on protesters or gun-toting concealed carry activists. One of the major protest areas – Cleveland’s Public Square, or Q – usually featured just a handful of people with their signs. Some of the people I chatted with, too, were lone wolves who seemed to show up simply to witness a bit of the spectacle. A few hundred Trump supporters gathered along the Cuyahoga River.

What I mostly noticed was members of the media who were swarming the area. Often times, when an interesting character appeared, including one guy with a rifle on display, dozens of reporters would run up for the chance to nab an interview.

Cleveland on Edge

It’s clear the chatter about potential violence at the RNC, combined with another tragic attack on police Sunday, has had a deep impact on the people live who here. From cab drivers to cashiers, all of the Cleveland natives I’ve spoken with so far told me about the sense of nervousness they felt as the convention approached.

One cab driver told me his son had begged him not to drive Downtown. People working desk jobs in downtown Cleveland were told to take the week off or work from home (in part, too, because of traffic concerns).

Overall, many locals I encountered expressed excitement – what an economic opportunity for our city, they said – about the RNC, but a steady apprehension.

Which explains …

The Tight Security

Police officers whizzed by us on BMW motorcycles. Troops of cops spun through the city on bicycles. Officers congregated on street corners, pointing out traffic hazards to pedestrians.

It’s hard to walk a block without spotting at least a dozen Secret Service or police officers in downtown Cleveland. Although officials stressed how much they planned for this big event, their presence took me, and leaders at the event, by surprise.

I saw several Ohio delegates who posted on social media about how safe the strong security force made them feel, especially during some uncertain times.

Midwestern Hospitality on Display

Everyone is so friendly. I know, it’s a Midwestern stereotype you’ve probably heard before about Ohioans, but, by golly, these Clevelanders are a gosh-darn welcoming bunch.

Law enforcement went out of their way to point us in the right direction, say hello or ask where we’re traveling from as we walked by. Taxi drivers here love to strike up conversations. Local volunteers and workers at the convention center seem to have smiles permanently plastered to their faces.

If there’s a reason that Midwestern stereotype exists, I’d bet the people of Cleveland helped establish it.

Party, Party, Party

Walking into the convention area was breathtaking. Organizers created what feels like a city surrounding the Quicken Loans Arena, complete with outdoor bars, picnic tables and a music stage where country music is frequently blaring from the speakers.

Delegates walk around with boozy drinks in hand and sparkly hats on their heads. It’s a big week – and many here came to party.


Things Are a Little Awkward at This Party

Monday kicked off with news that Donald Trump’s campaign manager very publicly dissed Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Then, a few hours later, some Republican delegates chanted demands for a roll call vote in an attempt to embarrass and thwart Trump’s nomination efforts. I spotted an alternate delegate in a ‘Never Trump’ T-shirt, and Newt Gingrich openly scolded Kasich while talking with WCPO’s Craig McKee.

It’s clear some in the party have still yet to unite behind the GOP nominee, just three days ahead of his formal nomination. Trump has promised to change that by the convention’s end, and his theme on the RNC’s final day – “Make America One Again” -- hints at that promise.

I’ll let you know if it works Thursday evening.