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The First Political Conventions

September 8th, 2012

Long before we had 24-hour news cycles, an endless stream of pundits, and a slew of social media websites, America had no problem nominating Presidential candidates.  In fact, we went decades before political conventions were even thought of!

Up until the 1820’s, members of Congress nominated Presidential candidates.  In those days, the candidates didn’t hit the stump and travel all over the place campaigning.  Instead, they left that up to their supporters.

But, eventually, people got sick of that.  In September 1831, 96 members of the Anti-Masonic Party headed to Baltimore and held America’s first political convention.  (Ironically, they nominated William Wirt — a former Mason.  Apparently flip-flopping existed back then, too!)

Not to be outdone, the National Republicans held their own convention in Baltimore a couple months later.  But like today’s conventions, everyone knew ahead of time that Henry Clay was going to be nominated.  So much for suspense!

Five months later, the Democrats decided to drum up some enthusiasm by holding a convention of their own.  Unsurprisingly, sitting President Andrew Jackson got their nomination.  But in an effort to add some suspense, the Democrats decided to unveil their Vice-Presidential candidate at the convention.

Imagine what things were like at those very first political conventions.  There were no screaming primetime speeches, no balloons dropping from the ceiling, no glitzy videos, and no one Tweeting all of the action in real-time.  All you had was a group of people getting together for one day and picking who they thought would be the perfect choice to run the country.

How Important Are Political Conventions?

August 29th, 2012

Thanks to 24-hour news cycles, constantly-updating polls, and things like Twitter and Facebook, the suspense of finding out who’s actually going to be nominated by a party to run for President is gone.  These days, even running mates are picked well before the convention!

We also get to see candidates’ platforms sooner.  After all, millions of dollars are spent every month in TV and radio ads to tell us what candidates think and how they would handle certain issues.  We also get to see the candidates go head-to-head — without all of the fancy graphics and witty copywriters — in debates.

So, have we outgrown political conventions?

Absolutely not!

Here’s why they’re absolutely essential to our Presidential elections:

–        They give each party a chance to appear on primetime TV

The exposure conventions get is much bigger than any exposure candidates could hope to get from a TV ad or a well-written press release.  For a few days, they get the exclusive attention of the big TV networks.

–         They give lesser-known members of the parties a chance to shine

When Barack Obama spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, it was the first time many Americans had even heard of him — and clearly he made an impression on them!  The same can be said for Sarah Palin — who Americans didn’t know much about until her convention speech in 2008.

–         They get people excited

Political conventions are like pep rallies.  They don’t necessarily determine the outcome of the election (or of the big game), but they give everyone a morale boost.  And when people are excited, they’re more likely to talk about the issues and the candidates with friends — meaning more people get involved in the political process.

So, what effect will Hurricane Isaac have on the Republican National Convention this year?  The Republicans already had to cancel the first day of their convention.  Now, they’re splitting primetime with hurricane coverage.  Will this affect their chances come November?


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