She lives in the heart of Florida's most Democratic territory, but it would be hard to find anyone anywhere who's more Republican than Fort Lauderdale's Sharon Day.
How Republican is she?
At the movies, she won't put money into the pockets of people she calls "big-mouthed Hollywood Democrats." When she wants to see one of their films she'll instead pay at the box office for another movie by or starring a Republican so her money benefits them — then slip in to watch the liberals' picture. If there's no Republican-leaning ticket-buying opportunity, she'll stay home from the multiplex.
In election season she pays to have her car shrinkwrapped — like some city buses — to tout the year's top Republican. She's advertised candidates for president, governor and U.S. Senate — even though in overwhelmingly Democratic Broward County it sometimes prompts unfriendly gestures from other drivers.
Her dog, a black and white cockapoo, is named "Reagan."
Though she's little known outside party circles, Day's totally committed brand of Republicanism will get some national attention on Monday, when she's one of the scheduled speakers at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. She gets the role as the No. 2 official at the Republican National Committee.
Party activists who know Day say it's hard to imagine a better choice to excite the kinds of activists who attend party conventions and form the grassroots networks candidates need to win election. She's in sync with them because at heart that's what Day is herself.
"I'm not a politician. I'm an activist. We're the true believers," said Day, who says she's spurned suggestions that she run for political office. "My focus, what's important to me, is my party's beliefs, our values."
It comes at a cost. She's hardly ever home these days at the Galt Ocean Mile condo she shares with her husband, Larry, so she hasn't emblazoned the car with a pitch for 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and probably won't. The longest stretch she's slept in her own bed since early 2011 was four days last Thanksgiving. And, when she does make it home, Reagan the dog acts up until they get reacquainted.
"She's 24/7 on politics," said Kevin Tynan, a former Broward Republican chairman. He said Day has the ability to speak directly to anyone who needs a dose of reality, whether it's a volunteer who needs a push to get moving on the kinds of not-so-glamorous work she does herself or a candidate whose message isn't working.
Colleen Stolberg, the Broward party's vice chairwoman, puts it this way: "She doesn't give you any blarney."
She isn't just talk. If volunteers are supposed to start gathering at 4 a.m., Day is there. If there's a call for bottled water, Day will fetch it. If a night of envelope stuffing drags on, Day stays till the end.
Day, 61, is a life-long Republican, but she's been an uber-Republican for just the last two decades.
While living in Indianapolis, Day and her husband build an insurance and reinsurance business from three employees to 156. They supported Republican candidates financially, but working 60 to 80 hours a week left no time to do anything more.
"We would write the checks and we would walk away," she said.
After selling the business and retiring early to South Florida in the early 1990s, they stumbled into activism. When they walked into a Republican Party office to register to vote as new Broward residents, the Days were recruited to get involved.
She took to the mission with a passion. She became a precinct committeewoman in 1994, the state Republican committeewoman representing Broward in 1996, the national committeewoman representing Florida in 2004, national party secretary in 2009, and national party co-chair in 2011. Along the way, she's defeated candidates who had more seniority, were favored by party powerbrokers, or were incumbents holding the office she sought.
She also lost a bid to become state party chairwoman in 2010 after then-chairman Jim Greer resigned under fire as donors and other party leaders raised questions about his effectiveness and spending practices.
Day said she's never felt a glass ceiling in which her party efforts have been stymied by her gender. She also rejects the election-year theme being pushed by Democrats that Republicans have been waging a "war on women."
To become her party's No. 2 official, she defeated incumbent national party co-chairwoman Jan Larimer of Wyoming, 84-82, in January 2011 by putting forth a plan to improve coordination with campaign committees for the Senate, House and governors and bulking up state parties.
It wasn't Day's biggest fight. When Greer attempted to turn the Florida Republican Party into an arm of then-Gov. Charlie Crist's unsuccessful 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate, Day blocked the move despite armtwisting from Greer and Crist forces.
At the time, Marco Rubio was an underdog given virtually no chance by anyone in the political world — before he went on to harness tea party support and become the state's junior U.S. senator.
In his book, "An American Son," Rubio writes that Day "was my last hope." If she had caved to the Greer-Crist forces, "my campaign almost certainly would collapsed," Rubio continues. "But she is a formidable person, and she never wavered."
Day has her detractors. James Hammers, a Republican committeeman from Oakland Park, said she isn't as effective a spokeswoman for their party as the most prominent South Florida spokeswoman on the other side, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
"Sharon Day has done more for the party than I ever will, but I've got to call a spade a spade. God bless her, but she's not the person for that job," he said.
She's not fazed by tough odds, criticism or demands to back down. Along with the new Republican national chairman, Reince Priebus, elected at the same time, she's helped turn around a national party that was hobbled by disarray and debt.
"She is the Energizer bunny," said Peter Feaman of Boynton Beach, the state committeeman from Palm Beach County and Florida's national Republican committeeman. "She's like Mrs. Republican if you could have such a thing."
Excerpts about Day from Marco Rubio's book and pictures of Day's car during campaign season at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics
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