Doing Things Differently at the 2012 Democratic and Republican Conventions
It’s traditional for the local media to host a party for the visiting media on Saturday before the conventions begin. Delegates fly in on Sunday and attend their own state delegation parties that evening. Some of these are closed to press, and some aren’t.
This year the Republicans held a combined media and delegate party on Sunday under the dome of a baseball field in neighboring St. Petersburg. As part of the entertainment, locals walked around in costumes, providing conversation and photo ops. Security was extremely tight, even though no "protected persons" were expected. It was as hard to get into this party as the convention itself. Pass holders were explicitly told that tickets were not transferable. Protestors were limited to the public sidewalks many blocks away from the arena. In the unlikely event that any protestors got past all the security screeners, they would have been drowned out by the sheer noise of the official entertainment and blended in with all the costumed characters.
The Democrats held the usual media party on Saturday. Getting in did not require convention credentials. Anyone who said they were press, with or without a credential, could get in. This party had multiple venues, offering different food and entertainment in former railroad warehouses that had been turned into an entertainment center. At one outdoor stage, the lead singer and bandmaster of Liquid Blue praised CodePink, the women's anti-war group. Band members put on the "Make Out, Not War" stickers which CodePinkers were passing out to the crowd and let them unfurl one of their banners, in effect bringing protest inside.
Each convention provided work space for the press in the local convention center, several blocks from the arena where the convention itself met. The big press paid for space. The little press had a "filing center" where reporters could sit at rows of tables supplied with electrical outlets and internet cables. Access to the press working areas required a convention credential but only the Republicans also required a complete security search before one could enter. Items such as "whole fruit" and big backpacks were confiscated. The Democrats only removed these items from press entering the convention itself.
Podium time at the conventions is a precious commodity. Its allocation requires juggling multiple pressures. Since the big three broadcasters refused to provide live coverage for more than one hour a night, speaking in that time slot was a special privilege. The candidates spoke during the Thursday night slot and their wives wrapped up the evening on Tuesday night. The Republicans gave Wednesday’s final hour to Vice Presidential pick Paul Ryan, while the Democrats gave it to former President Bill Clinton. Vice President Joe Biden went on stage the hour before President Obama made his acceptance speech.
It’s common courtesy to invite the primary candidates who lost to address the convention, both as a consolation prize and to demonstrate that everyone is united behind the chosen one. Since there were no serious challengers for the Democratic nomination, only the Republicans had to find places for the also-rans. Of the candidates who won delegate votes, only Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich addressed the convention personally. They had endorsed Romney once he secured the nomination. Ron Paul, who never endorsed Romney, was represented by a video. His son, Senator Rand Paul (KY), who did endorse Romney, spoke after the video. Rep. Ron Paul was in town, speaking to his numerous supporters at other venues. Of those wannabes who dropped out before the primaries or did not get any delegates votes, Tom Pawlenty, former Governor of Minnesota, was the only one to address the convention. For having quickly thrown his support to Mitt Romney, he got an almost-prime time slot on Wednesday.