Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

August 15, 2008 10:56 AM

2008 Republican And Democratic Conventions

The Democratic and Republican conventions are anachronisms at best. At worst they are the biggest waste of money in modern Presidential campaigns.

The best argument for watching the conventions this year is that nothing like them is likely to be seen again.

Neither Party has had a multi-ballot convention since 1952. The last Republican convention to go beyond the 1st ballot was in 1948, when it took 3 ballots for Tom Dewey to secure the nomination. The last Democratic convention that required more than one ballot was in 1952, when Adlai Stevenson needed 3 ballots to secure his place in history.

What's more, since 1956 there have only been 3 conventions in which the ultimate nominee got less than 62% of the vote on the first ballot. The exceptions were

  • the Democratic convention in 1960 when John Kennedy received 53% of the vote on the 1st ballot
  • the Democratic convention in 1984 when Walter Mondale received 56% of the vote
  • the Republican convention in 1976 when Gerry Ford got 53% of the vote

The delegates and alternates have been reduced to the status of extras in a carefully staged theatrical production.

In 1960, the three TV networks that carried the conventions received an average rating of 28.5. (i.e., 28.5% of potential viewers watched all or part of them). By 2004, with 7 TV and cable networks providing coverage, the average rating was 16.

In 2004 WW estimated that the Democratic convention in Boston cost something between $150-200 million dollars before the first delegate booked a flight, rented a room or purchased a meal. This does not take into account the tens of millions that various networks spend covering these events.

Given that the current delegate apportionment rules of the two Parties make it unlikely that there will be a need for a multi-ballot convention anytime soon, why do the Parties continue to produce these extravaganzas?

One reason is inertia. Neither Party wants to be the first to change the format, although it is hard to understand the argument for continuing.

Another argument is that the conventions provide an opportunity for the Party's leadership to come together every four years.

Perhaps the best argument for these conventions is that they provide the largest audience which a Party's nominee will enjoy until his or her inaugural, and a venue in which they have absolute control over the message. It is also the largest "solo" audience that the Party's Vice Presidential nominee will enjoy, unless he or she runs for President.

These two worthwhile goals could easily be achieved without resorting to the machinations of the current conventions.

Most of the Party-building activity at these conventions actually occurs outside of the hall.

And what is the likelihood that TV and cable would not cover the acceptance speeches of the Party's nominees if the events were held in the kind of setting that most large national conventions enjoy?

And if the day comes when there is again a multi-ballot convention, conducting that contest certainly does not require the constructive modification of a basketball/hockey arena.

But perhaps the biggest driver of a change in the nature of these conventions will be the fact that few if any cities will bid to host these gatherings in the future, unless there is substantial modification of the requirements.

The Democratic convention will be held from August 25-28, 2008, in Denver Colorado.

The Republicans will follow almost immediately, holding their convention September 1-4, 2008, in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

This year's Democratic convention is taking the first steps to modify the structure of its convention. Before its nominee was selected the director of the convention had decided to shorten each day's plenary session from 7 to 5 hours.

The Obama campaign has made further modifications since he became the presumptive nominee. There will only be full-scale plenary sessions on Monday through Wednesday. Tentatively, on Monday and Wednesday the sessions will be 5 hours long and on Tuesday it will be in session for 6 hours.

This means each session will start at either 3:00 or 4:00 o'clock p.m. and conclude by 9:00 p.m. MDT.

But of greatest significance is the 4th day's session. This session will meet in the evening and has been moved from the Pepsi Center to Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium, the home of the Denver Broncos football team. It has a seating capacity of 76,000. In addition to regular delegates, alternates and guests will meet there, rather than at the Pepsi Center. Some 60,000 tickets will be issued to the general public to help form the audience for Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

Requests for all 60,000 seats available to the public were received within 18 hours after the announcement of their availability.

The Republicans have always had shorter plenary sessions compared to Democrats sessions. This year will be similar in length to those in the past.

The 4 days of the Republican convention will be held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The schedule as announced by the convention committee follows (all times are CDT):

  • Monday, 2:30 - 10:00 p.m. (30 minute break at 6:30 p.m.)
  • Tuesday, 6:20 - 10:05 p.m.
  • Wednesday, 6:20 - 11:20 p.m.
  • Thursday, 6:20 - 10:15 p.m.

The major TV networks, ABC, NBC, CBS, are expected to provide live coverage of both conventions for an hour each day, 10:00 - 11:00 p.m. EST. PBS and various cable networks will provide more expanded coverage. For those who are eager not to miss a word, CSPAN will, as usual, provide gavel-to-gavel coverage of both conventions.

As of now, what appears to be known about the schedule of speakers at the two conventions are:


  • Monday - President Bush and Vice President Cheney
  • Tuesday - ?
  • Wednesday - Vice Presidential nominee
  • Thursday - Senator John McCain


  • Monday - Michelle Obama; Senator Kennedy Tribute; Speaker Nancy Pelosi
  • Tuesday - Senator Hillary Clinton; Mark Warner, Keynoter
  • Wednesday - Vice Presidential nominee; President Bill Clinton
  • Thursday - Senator Barack Obama

This is the first Democratic convention in the memory of WW in which the spouse of a non-incumbent nominee is a headline speaker on the first night of the convention.

A convention history prepared by WW is available here.

[Note: Your editor has participated in some fashion in every Democratic national convention from 1968 through 2004. In 1976, 1980, 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 I scheduled the plenary sessions. And I certainly did participate in extending the plenary sessions of the Democratic party. In fact, it was likely my idea.]

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