TAMPA — Matthew Sisk was a teenager delivering newspapers around Braintree when he noticed story after story in 1994 about an upstart Republican challenging a Democratic icon, Edward M. Kennedy, for a seat in the US Senate.
Sisk admired that challenger’s moxie, so he persuaded some schoolmates to join him outside Faneuil Hall in Boston to wave signs for Mitt Romney during one of his debates with Kennedy.
Romney lost that campaign, but this week Sisk hopes to help send him on to victory over President Obama by casting a vote to formally nominate Romney as the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential candidate.
Sisk is part of the 79-member contingent of delegates and alternates who will represent Massachusetts at the Republican National Convention.
The group will be honored guests among the overall crowd of 2,300 delegates.
As the delegation from the nominee’s home state, they’ll be housed in the same waterfront hotel as Romney and seated directly beneath the podium when he accepts the nomination Thursday night before a television audience expected to number around 40 million.
“It is a distinct honor and a high privilege to do that,” Sisk, 34, said last week as he contemplated his nomination vote.
Recalling how Romney helped raise money and campaign for him when he ran unsuccessfully for state representative during a special election in 2003, Sisk added: “It’s almost an emotional thing for me, in the sense that I get to give back in a small way some of what he gave me.”
The convention carries similar meaning to another first-time delegate, 29-year-old Elizabeth Mahoney.
Her hometown is Belmont, where Romney settled when he began his graduate studies at Harvard, and Mahoney has worked in his orbit since she attended Harvard herself as an undergraduate.
She was a member of the Harvard Republican Club (“Yes, there are some of those,” Mahoney says with a laugh), and then went to work for the Massachusetts Republican Party when she graduated in 2005.
The next year, Mahoney worked for then-Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey as she tried unsuccessfully to succeed Romney as governor, before shifting to Romney’s first presidential campaign.
After he lost his 2008 bid, Mahoney worked for Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC.
This week, she is a convention delegate.
“I am really looking forward to casting my vote,” Mahoney said. “It will definitely be the climax of years of hard work and pulling for this guy. . . . I think he’s a great guy. He’s actually very personable in person.”
Both Sisk and Mahoney realize that they will be coming into the convention on something of a high for the state party.
Massachusetts Republicans controlled the corner office for 16 years, beginning with former Governor William F. Weld in 1991 and ending with Romney in 2007.
Yet their blend of social liberalism and fiscal moderation is hardly representative of more hard-core conservative Republican philosophy prevalent south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
During recent conventions, that less-than-mainstream perspective has been reflected by hotel assignments a bus ride away from the speaking hall and seats inside that were best enjoyed with binoculars.
It’s why Newt Gingrich, of Georgia, spoke with such evident contempt during the primaries when he labeled Romney a “Massachusetts moderate.”
Yet Romney outlasted Gingrich and all the other contenders for the nomination. And by virtue of his success, this year’s crop of Massachusetts convention delegates will enjoy the spoils on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Their ranks include 27 like Sisk elected at party caucuses, 11 like Mahoney elected on an at-large basis, and 38 alternates. The final three delegates are party chairman Robert Maginn, state committeeman Ron Kaufman, and state committeewoman Jody Dow.
Beyond the group’s front-line hotel and front-row seats, tradition dictates that Massachusetts will cast the decisive votes that put Romney over the 1,144 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination.
Two will be delivered by Sisk and Mahoney, who plan to soak it all in.
“Some people who have gone to other conventions in the past have made it clear that this is not the usual treatment we get,” said Mahoney. “It’s very special.
“We’re not going to be up in the rafters, where we usually are, but right in the center of the action.”