Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Late conventions, early primaries, could move up VP choice

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

I started this blog when DNC Chairman Howard Dean announced that the convention would be held Aug 25-28, 2008, which was a great date both for both financial and political reasons, and eventually forced the GOP to start their convention on Labor Day. Elizabeth Wilner at The Politico notes another effect of the late summer date for both conventions:

In presidential election years, summertime traditionally is for running mates and conventions - though never quite in the way we’ll see a year from now.... Conventions mark the culmination of the biggest, most gamed-out draft pick in American politics: the selection of the running mate.

In 2008, that long-held custom will be threatened, as other political traditions already have been, by the unprecedented schedule and scale of this campaign. Running mates historically have been chosen within days, or at most, a few weeks before the start of a convention, then packed off on a grand tour that ends with a balloon drop. Sen. John F. Kerry’s choice of his colleague Sen. John Edwards, which came 20 days before the start of the 2004 Democratic confab, was unusually early compared to previous cycles. A lead time of about a week has been more the norm; in 2000, then-Gov. George W. Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore revealed their picks the week before their conventions began.
I would note that in 1976, Jimmy Carter, even though he had the nomination all wrapped up, did not reveal his choice of Walter Mondale to be VP until after Carter was officially nominated, on the morning of the last day of the convention.
In a cycle in which the identities of the nominees are expected to be known unusually early, adhering to tradition would mean that running mates get picked fatefully late. The 2008 presidential nominees could be anointed as early as Feb. 5. The Democratic and Republican conventions will take place during the last week of August and the first week of September.

It’s hard to imagine both nominees enduring such a stretch without the kind of help only a running mate can provide. Assuming that Feb. 5 proves decisive, they’ll face six and a half months of nonstop travel, relentless pummeling by the opposition and constant fundraising until the public campaign fund check arrives.

Another reason for a presidential nominee to pull the trigger early on a running mate would be to ensure that he or she captures the full attention of the media and the public. This announcement is the single biggest controllable news event any presidential campaign gets to stage before Election Day. Sticking to the old game plan of waiting until shortly before the conventions means that the respective announcements, like the conventions themselves, would bump up against each other.

An earlier decision also would leave time for a campaign to get its vice presidential subsidiary organization staffed up and running and give the second on the ticket some time to ease into the job. Waiting until shortly before the convention to announce the pick would give him or her just six to eight weeks before the traditional fall vice presidential debate.

The Democratic National Committee believed it was scheduling its confab for as late as, well, conventionally possible. Having seen how a late-August gathering worked to President Bush’s benefit in 2004 by giving him momentum against Kerry heading into the fall, the DNC has scheduled its event for Aug. 25-28. (The party also was shut out of most of that month in 2008 because of the Summer Olympics.)

Few really expected the Republicans to look beyond Labor Day, but hoping to repeat their 2004 success, that’s precisely what they did, besting the DNC in scheduling jujitsu by setting their convention for Sept. 1-4.

The decision that will confront the major-party nominees about when to choose their running mates will provide another example of how the trappings of traditional politicking must be revisited or even cast aside to enable candidates to better handle the particular rigors of this presidential race.

And for a gathering whose financially bloated, suspenseless existence is being questioned more and more, any weakening of its biggest selling point for the public and the press could strike the death blow for the nominating convention as we know it.
I think the long gap between the candidates being picked in March and the conventions at the end of the summer is going to have a number of unpredictable effects, the timing of the VP choice being only one of them. And I think the future of conventions is going to be a major topic next summer in the leadup to the conventions, and it will be very interesting to see how the 2008 conventions are covered, and how the parties respond in the future.