Christine Stuart photo

Huddled in the back of Mayor Mike’s, a restaurant owned by the former Democratic mayor of Hartford, the Young Republicans and Republican faithful of all ages gathered to watch Arizona Senator John McCain accept the party’s presidential nomination on a stage more than 1,200 miles away.

“I was supposed to be out at the Republican National Convention but was upset when Romney wasn’t chosen as VP,” Clarence Jackson said. He said he liked former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney because “he’s Mormon and I’m Mormon too.”

“I thought he had the best to offer,” Jackson said of Romney. However, Jackson admitted that McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as vice president “will go down as the best political move ever, or the stupidest.”

Jackson, who said he is a registered Republican, attended the Democratic National Convention last week in Denver.

“I wanted to witness history,” Jackson said. “I thought it was something I would never see in my lifetime.” 

Christine Stuart photo

Fred Landers of Newington said his first choice for president was former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani, but as soon as McCain picked Palin as vice president, he says he thought, “This guy really knows what he’s doing.”

Landers said Palin’s gender is besides the point. He said he likes her ideas about smaller government.

Landers said being a Republican in a Blue state is difficult and wishes the party would concentrate more on voter registration, especially among young voters.

Theresa McGrath of West Hartford said McCain’s speech was “spectacular.” McGrath, who is running for state representative in the 19th House District, said “it was honest and straight from his heart.”

She said she thought it was interesting that McCain, Palin, and McCain’s wife, Cindy, have all touched on special education in their convention speeches. Special education is an issue that’s close to McGrath’s heart because she’s an advocate for children through groups like the Family Alliance for Children in Education and believes strongly in school choice.

Christine Stuart photo

State Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, said McCain did a fantastic job and sounded “very presidential.”

“He really showed me he understands what the average American is up against,” Perillo said. “It was nice to hear a speech with some substance.” He said McCain’s speech resonated with him not as Republican, but as an average Joe.

Michael Rell, son of Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and one of the organizers of Thursday’s watch party, said McCain’s speech was “everything I expected and then some.”

He said McCain focused a lot on issues, like energy and education, and talked about how he would solve them if he was president. “He provided substance to some of the issues out there and proved he understands the seriousness of the issues people are facing,” Rell said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who had planned to be out in St. Paul with her husband Lou, stopped by the gathering Thursday briefly before heading out to watch McCain’s speech at home.

Michael Rell explained that his father is recovering from some health issues and was unable to fly to the event. He suspected that his father was probably pretty upset about missing McCain’s big night.

A former Navy pilot himself, Rell said his father served during the same period as McCain. He said the two have met at least a half-dozen times since Rell’s become governor and love to trade stories when they get together.