Friday, August 22, 2008

Is 2008 the end of the conventions as we know them?

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

There's an underlying rumble under the runups to both conventions - will these be the last conventions as we know them: 4 days, expenses over $100 million? It's a topic that really won't be addressed until next year, but the rumblings are there.

First, Obama's move to Invesco. What this is showing is that you can put on a convention with a week of preparations, not 6 weeks. Sure, you're only doing one night, but it's the most important night. Once the DNCC releases plans for their podiums in both places, we'll be able to see some of what was not done in Invesco. One thing there won't be in Invesco is all the wiring on the floor: For example, when we have the roll call on Wednesday, each state delegation chair will announce their votes on a microphone. That infrastructure won't be there on Thursday. Is all that infrastructure really necessary?

Here's what Howard Dean said last year:

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said Thursday the days of the $60 million political convention coronations are numbered and he's studying ways to make them more relevant to average people.
"We've got to change the way we do conventions in this country. I'm looking to try to make this a transitional convention, in the sense that the day of the $50-$60 million convention is coming to a close.
But the real question is, will any cities bid for the conventions in the future?

CQ wrote in 2006:
There are long lists of logistic requirements demanded by the parties, including a single convention venue that can accommodate thousands of delegates and party officials and many thousands more journalists who will cover the proceedings, and at least 20,000 hotel rooms and 2,000 suites for participants that are located within a reasonable commute to the arena. And this is on top of security measures and costs that have greatly escalated since the onset of the “9/11 era.”

It is not very surprising, therefore, that most cities take a deep breath and decide that it would better to watch the conventions from afar.
And I wrote:
One of these years, there won't be any cities that want to put up any money to host the convention, and the parties will have to raise a lot more money if they still want to have them.
Also, from the Wall Street Journal:
As Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul prepare to host this summer's national political conventions, there are mounting signs security costs and fund-raising headaches are causing cities to think twice about hosting such events.

The national conventions often are touted as signs of prestige as well as immediate boons to local economies. But the strains of putting on a grand show for the Democratic and Republican gatherings, where the presidential candidates are nominated, are becoming more evident this summer, especially as the host cities cope with post-9/11 security demands.
But will anything actually change? Here's the problem. As long as the convention planning is under the control of the national committees, things won't change - the national committees are unlikely to do anything different, and once plans are set in place, it's difficult to change them once a nominee is picked in the spring of the election year.

But when the Obama folks (assuming he wins, of course) are in control of planning for the next convention, they can impose a vision of what type of convention they would like to have. And given what they're doing this year, I would expect that the 2012 Democratic Convention may look very different than we're used to.

Update: Ed Kilgore writes on a similar subject, and reaches a similar conclusion. He ends:
As I write these words, I am preparing to work in the speech/script operation for my sixth consecutive Democratic Convention. After each of the last five, convention professionals invariably said to each other: "Well, that's the last time we'll do this kind of convention!" But this time, I think that may finally be true.