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August 21, 2012

Political Conventions Aim to Energize Party Faithful

by Carolyn Presutti

Every four years in the United States, national political party conventions are held to officially introduce the presidential nominees to Americans. Early conventions were often governed by backroom negotiations to choose the nominees for the Democratic and Republican parties.  But now they are mainly ceremonial. And some question the need to hold them any more.
 
Just like a whistle that starts a soccer match, the conventions signal it’s time for the real game to begin. This high energy has to carry the U.S. presidential campaign through its final 10 weeks. 
 
In the past, political conventions were punctuated by intrigue and infighting.  
   
And even violence.  Anti war protesters dominated the story outside the 1968 Democratic party convention.
 
But now, party conventions are just big parties.  Everyone knows the nominees. 
 
That's because state primary elections, like the games leading up to soccer's World Cup, already decided who would make to it to the final match.  This year, the Democrat, President Barack Obama, will face Republican challenger Mitt Romney. There are few, if any spontaneous moments.  
 
John Hudak, with the Brookings Institution, said, “Everyone looks very similar in the terms of the types of policies that they are advocating for.”
 
Team unity comes with a steep price. Each political party receives $18 million from Americans who chose to donate three dollars from their federal tax return.  The conventions are expected to cost each party more than double that -- $40 million.  Some say it’s money that should be spent differently.  
 
Richard Savage, a political consultant, said, “People who are in the middle or independents, they may see it as a waste of money, but a lot of people who make the phone calls, do the door-to-door, the convention is kind of their reward.”
 
Conventions sometimes introduce rising political rookies. Barack Obama first gained national attention as the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic convention.   
 
“If you are living abroad and you don’t follow American politics too closely, this lets you see who’s on the back bench," said Hudak. 
 
But, the "free kick" at conventions is the TV coverage. American TV networks broadcast from each convention and offer play-by-play analysis of the candidates - invaluable, says Norman Ornstein from the American Enterprise Institute. “Free coverage.  You don’t have to pay for commercials when networks are covering hours of the message you want to convey," he said. 
 
And just like in soccer, whoever scores the most wins.  For candidates, the goal is to live in the White House. But we won't know who that will be until November 6, election day.