ST. PAUL - Sen. John McCain wasn't Perry Nouis' first choice for president but the Little Falls businessman is enthusiastically supporting him now.
"Absolutely," the alternate delegate responded this week when the question of support for McCain was posed at the Republican National Convention.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the first choice of Nouis because the Morrison County Republican chairman didn't like the Arizona senator's willingness to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.
"He says he got the message," Nouis said of McCain's illegal immigration stance.
Despite differences with the presumptive nominee on certain issues, Nouis said he thought McCain was definitely the best choice now, largely because of his experience.
"Just his solid military experience," Nouis said. "He's very good on foreign policy. We're in the middle of a war. He sees that."
And what about Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee?
"He's clearly got a lot of skills," Nouis said, "He can excite a crowd."
Nouis wants to see Obama spell out exactly what his plans are for the U.S. and is sorry the Illinois senator turned down McCain's offer of a series of town hall meetings.
"America is the greatest country in the world," Nouis said. "How do you (Obama) want to change it?"
Nouis wasn't disappointed when Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was picked instead of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty as McCain's vice presidential running mate. He said Palin is more qualified to be president than Obama.
"I believe Gov. Palin is a better pick," he said, noting her reputation as a reformer in Alaska.
He said her life story as a hunter, National Rifle Association member and a snowmobiler, would endear her to many voters and that criticism of her small town background wasn't valid.
"I think that's wonderful she's a small town mayor," Nouis said.
Nouis, 52, said conservatives who were reluctant to back McCain early in the campaign season will come around.
"I've got the sense it's going to take three to four weeks," Nouis said.
Nouis was disappointed that Monday's convention did not feature the scheduled speeches from President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The choice to cancel the president's Monday appearance because of the Hurricane on the Gulf Coast was the right one, Nouis said, but he was still disappointed.
He said Republicans weren't able to get their conservative message out on Monday's prime time television schedule.
While he is enjoying his time in St. Paul, Nouis is taking time away from his own primary race for a county board seat in Morrison County. This fall's campaign is his second bid for elective office. He ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature as an independent against then-Rep. Steve Wenzel, DFL-Little Falls, in 1984.
Nouis said he grew up as a Democrat but shortly after his run for the Legislature he started to feel more comfortable with Republican positions. A conservative Democrat, Nouis said he felt like President Ronald Reagan who once claimed he didn't leave the Democratic Party, but the party left him.
The owner of Nouis Home at Pine Edge, a home for disabled veterans and others at old Pine Edge Inn in Little Falls, Nouis served two separate stints in the military before returning to Little Falls. He served in the U.S. Army for a few years in the late 1970s. After returning home and earning a degree in business management from St. Cloud State University, Nouis served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in January 2005.
When he first heard the GOP convention would be conducted in St. Paul, Nouis knew he wanted to be a part of it in some official capacity. Competition for delegate slots was stiff, he said. He had two minutes to make his case at a Republican convention and eventually was rewarded with a alternate seat. As an alternate, he expected he would be able to sit on the floor for a short period of time when a delegate leaves his or her seat. But Nouis realizes that when the important role call votes come it's unlikely he'll be able to cast a ballot.
"I'll be in the cheap seats," he said.
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