American voters, busy with summer vacations and distracted by
the Olympic Games will soon have an opportunity to focus their
attention on the U.S. presidential race. Bill Eagle reports from
Washington, the Democratic and Republican parties are soon to begin
their nationally-televised conventions which will showcase their
candidates and and begin the final phase of the presidential campaign
that ends with the election on November fourth.
At the conventions, delegates nominate and confirm their
parties' candidates for president and vice-president.
They are also a show of unity among the supporters of the
presidential hopefuls. For example, Democratic Party leaders have
agreed to a roll call that would allow delegates pledged to vote for
Senator Hillary Clinton to announce their preference for her. Senator
Barack Obama has the most delegates and is the party's presumptive
presidential candidate. However, the tally is seen as a way to
acknowledge Senator Clinton's delegates and resolve any tensions
between the two former competitors, after a sometimes bitter primary
Millions watch the televised events both within the United States and
around the world.
J. Peter Pham is the director of international and public
affairs at James Madison University near Washington, DC. He’s also a senior
fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.
Pham says the conventions give foreign audiences a chance
to see the American model of democracy, where parties are built around
grassroots debates over principles and issues. He says in contrast, in
many developing countries parties are built around a strong personality or
"The convention is unique," he says,"in that
the party structures are unique: they [allow for] the open involvement of most
people. In the US you can vote in (party primaries) without giving a dime to
the party. [But] In other countries, membership in a party means paying dues.
So a limited set of people are involved."
Party organizers want to persuade voters to support their
Robert Loevy is a
professor of political science at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
He says part of a successful
convention is a well-received acceptance speech by the nominee.
He says in the 2002 Republican convention, then-candidate George
W. Bush said he wanted inclusion and demonstrated his point by putting lots of
minorities in front of the camera: "There was a feeling the convention was
creating a new image for the Republican Party among many viewers."
Loevy says the candidate also gained by delivering a
flawless speech. The press had said Mr. Bush, then the governor of Texas, was
not a polished public speaker.
On the other hand, Loevy says even
a candidate known to be an eloquent speaker may not necessarily score with
viewers. "[Barak] Obama," he says,"will be in a very
difficult position, in my view. He has a reputation as...a perfect speaker. The
expectations for his speech will be so high that if it is mediocre it will be a
[disappointment] for the party."
The candidate’s speech can
also backfire. In 1988, the first president Bush, George H.W. Bush, introduced
the catch phrase, “Read My Lips. No New Taxes.” But he did end up
raising them, and during his re-election campaign four years later, opponents
were quick to accuse him of breaking his promise.
Peace in the Streets, Unity in the Hall
Loevy says a successful convention
is a peaceful one.
Many pundits say the tumultuous Democratic Party
convention in 1968 likely helped Republican candidate Richard Nixon beat
competitor Hubert Humphrey in a close poll. Millions of television viewers
watched violent clashes between the Chicago police and convention protesters
against the war in Vietnam.
Authorities expect anti-war protests at both party
conventions this year. Loevy says a group called Recreate 68 intends to
demonstrate at the Democratic gathering in Denver.
"The important thing," he says,"is how the city handles it. It has to
be in such a way that police do not hit protesters with nightsticks. [Some]
demonstrators try to provoke [the police]. Cities and parties have gotten
pretty good at handling this in recent years, but the potential is always there
Convention organizers are working with protest groups and
with authorities to ensure that all demonstrations are peaceful. Party
activists realize that television and the internet are powerful tools for
shaping voters’ opinions. The only images they want voters to see are those
projecting strength and unity.