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Local delegates: Keep alive Democrats’ momentum

– Exciting. Exhilarating. Electric.

That’s how northeast Indiana delegates described this week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

“Everything I imagined it would be like? It’s better,” Judy Rowe of Angola said Thursday in a telephone interview.

The convention mood has been “we’re going to win, we’re going to do this,” said Ali Penland of Fort Wayne. “It’s just an amazing feeling.”

Can Penland, Rowe and other area delegates transfer that enthusiasm to their staunchly Republican home counties? Democrat Barack Obama carried Indiana and its 11 electoral votes on his way to the White House in the 2008 election, but Republican John McCain won every county in northeast Indiana, a few by huge margins. This year’s GOP candidate, Mitt Romney, led Obama by 16 percentage points in an independent poll taken of Hoosier voters this summer.

Rowe said Obama’s first presidential campaign asked her to help out.

“I said, ‘Forget this, there are no Democrats in Steuben County,’ ” Rowe, 48, recalled.

But she changed her mind and worked for the campaign, which she said was pleased when Obama collected 44 percent of the Steuben County vote. Four years before that, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had received only 34 percent.

Since Obama’s victory, Rowe, who runs J. Rowe Signs & Promos in Angola, has been elected Democratic Party chairwoman in her county. She said many local Republicans are not as conservative as she once thought.

“Their views socially are extremely progressive. Some of them are Democrats and just don’t know it,” she said.

Penland said Democratic delegates must maintain their convention energy to boost Obama and other candidates ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

“I can take my enthusiasm and help motivate the volunteers, motivate people who are knocking on doors” of voters’ homes, Penland said. The convention “motivates me to go out and knock on more doors.”

Penland, 27, was elected chairwoman of the DeKalb County Democratic Party in 2009. She has given up the post because she moved to Allen County, where she is a teacher at North Side High School in Fort Wayne.

She seems confident about the Democrats’ prospects.

“We’re going to come out of our convention looking pretty spectacular. … We know we’re the party with the right ideas about the future,” Penland said.