While the Republican National Convention last week started out with the gloom of Hurricane Gustav, the event, local delegate Mike Stoker said, showed that the future for the Republican ticket is brighter than ever.

“I think we came out of that convention with the kind of momentum we need to make Sen. John McCain the next president,” said the former county supervisor and Santa Barbara County delegate.

He says it was the most moving RNC he has been to, largely because of the focus presidential nominee McCain put on the importance of being an American and serving one’s country.

“I think America has, to some extent, gone wayward in remembering what makes America great,” Stoker said. “We need to re-establish that moral compass as we proceed … it’s putting our country first, putting our families first, putting out communities first.” McCain, he said, connected to all of that.

Adding to the new Republican energy is the addition of Gov. Sarah Palin to the ticket. While the Alaskan governor seemed to many to be a surprise pick for vice president, Stoker said he knew about the possibility of her selection for a while.

“She’d been on the short list for the last three months,” he said.

One of the most obvious signs of the special importance of this year’s elections, Stoker said, was the support of Sen. Joe Lieberman. Once a Democratic vice presidential nominee, the Connecticut senator became an independent Democrat in 2006.

“In a normal election where you look at just normal everyday issues, (Democrats and independents) tend to vote Democrat. But his isn’t a normal election,” Stoker said, pointing out issues of national security. “Al-Qaeda wants to destroy us, and we need a strong president to be able to deal with that.”

As the race for the Oval Office intensifies, Stoker said, McCain’s experience will be one of the deciding factors for many voters, regardless of party affiliation.

“Obama wants to talk about his campaign being for change,” he said. “If you look at who’s whole life has been about change, it’s Sen. McCain.” McCain’s independent streak was what earned him the epithet “Maverick,” and got him into occasional trouble with his own party, Stoker said.

That self-determination is the kind of thing that will resonate with South Coast voters come voting time, Stoker said.

“I think in Santa Barbara County, people have a tendency to be much more supportive of people that change business the way it’s done and reform government as usual,” he said.

For others, the deciding issue could be the McCain policy on energy. which supports on- and offshore oil and gas exploration and nuclear power as well as alternative energy and conservation.

“He’s also for the expansion of coal gasification and the development of oil shale,” Stoker said.

While the financial effects of new oil and gas exploration won’t be felt for years, according to Stoker, the renewed exploration and possible lifting of the offshore oil and gas drilling moratorium would reduce demand and inspire investor confidence and a lowering of gas prices.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at sfernandez@noozhawk.com.