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See photos from the 2012 Republican convention

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Doing Things Differently at the 2012 Democratic and Republican Conventions

by Jo Freeman


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.

Media PassThis 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.

a women draped in an american flag scarf stands beneath a dragon       two men dress as patriotic firemen
Make Out Not War

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 Make Out Not Warpraised 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.

Protestors dance in front of a stage

At the Democrats' media bash protest became part of the party.

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.

people sit at long tables in a large room

The small press grabbed space in the Democratic convention filing center on a first-come first-served basis. Some tried various ways of "holding" space while they were elsewhere.

people appear engrossed in working on their laptops in the upper levels of the convention

Press at the Republican convention paid more attention to their computer screens than to what was happening on the floor or the stage of the Republican convention.

an elaborate modern lounge space

Missing from both conventions this time was a press lounge with free food, supplied by a commercial sponsor. However, the press – even those without credentials – were feted lavishly by the Huffington Post outside the security zone at each convention.


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.

Ann Romney

Ann Romney.

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama.

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.

Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann was the only woman running for the Republican nomination. She dropped out of the Presidential race after losing badly in the Iowa caucuses. Although she did not address the convention, she spoke at many of the satellite meetings as though she were still running for President.

Condoleeza Rice

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice addresses the Republican Convention.
The two female Democratic Secretaries of State – Madeleine Albright
and Hillary Clinton – did not speak at the Democratic convention.

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