Convention Realities

Published August 23, 2012

Not too many years ago political conventions were high drama. We sat glued to our televisions watching delegates hammer out the party platform and present the roll call of states to select a presidential nominee. This year’s conventions in Tampa and Charlotte won’t provide that drama.

Television news came of age with the live, wall-to-wall coverage of the political conventions of 1952, the last convention where there was more than one roll call ballot. Just as television made the conventions it also made Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley household names. We remember the protests and riots of the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention and who will forget those now-famous correspondents with those funny looking headsets on the convention floor filling airtime by interviewing delegates and providing interesting tidbits?

The conventions were also the launching pad for many politicians like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, who used the exposure to catapult them onto the national stage. But just as television made the national conventions compelling it also was the undoing of them, by expanding live coverage of political primaries and debates, taking much of the excitement from the convention itself. By 1972, networks struggled to make them interesting.

Both parties will be playing defense this year, praying for no major blunders. Republicans come to Tampa amidst a tropical storm outside and a political storm inside the arena, framed by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s gaff over “legitimate rape” and the growing influence of the Tea Party. They need to show they are mainstream and do care about women and the middle class, claiming Obama as a failed president who doesn’t deserve support. When Democrats gather in Charlotte after Labor Day they will claim to be the party of the middle class, saying Republicans are the radical, big business party who care only about the wealthy. Democrats will attempt to show an incumbent president, who may not have lived up to his promises, but has kept the country from financial disaster, rid the world of despots and is bringing home the troops. Both need to prove their case to the moderate and unaffiliated mainstream voters of this country.

Barack Obama selected Charlotte when it was believed he needed North Carolina to win re-election. It is now Mitt Romney who is saying that if he doesn’t carry North Carolina he won’t likely win. Polls show the two neck and neck in this state. Romney could have benefitted from the expected boost in our state if the GOP had chosen the Queen City.

This is a great opportunity for Charlotte to look good on the national stage, even if it won’t be the big economic windfall once envisioned. Attendance won’t be as great as expected and fundraising has fallen short, with one or more corporations promising to backstop financial losses, a story itself since Democrats do not typically embrace big business.

Under the lights of live television anything can happen and many will tune in to see what surprises might unfold. No doubt there will be highlights, but today’s highly managed spectacles aren’t likely to generate huge audience numbers. They are more like a lengthy commercial. Regardless of our affiliation we can all hope Charlotte and our state will come out the big winner.