Once upon a time, nominating conventions seriously mattered. Conventions used to be a place where candidates came together and earned the support of delegates through political horse-trading.
Today, conventions are not like that. Still, every spring and early summer, pundits and political junkies dream of the scenario of a brokered convention. In reality, this only happens in season six of “The West Wing.”
Conventions, as Pennsylvania State Sen. Daylin Leach aptly puts, are infomercials. Despite the negative connotations of the term, Leach believes this is a positive change. Conventions are a chance for a party to put their best and brightest on display while rallying around a candidate.
Last week, at the Democratic National Convention, the party threw familiar faces and rising stars on stage to spin a narrative about the president and his administration. Each keynote speaker articulated a specific aspect of the party, the president or the administration.
In Act I, Julián Castro, the Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, stood in front of a mic and laid out the Democrats’ ideological vision this election cycle. Castro responded to the Republican notion that government should stay out of the lives of individuals.
While there are many things people achieve on their own, Castro argued that there are some things that must be done together. Democrats, he suggests, believe that government can connect individuals across the socioeconomic spectrum with opportunities to succeed. This message reverberated through the Democratic message machine in Charlotte.
Last Tuesday, in a gripping speech that left many in the audience in tears (just so we are clear — even though I was in the audience, I did not cry), First Lady Michelle Obama gave listeners a look at her husband’s personal side. Obama explained that the biggest reveal of her husband’s character has been the presidency, where he has demonstrated what makes him a great man and a great leader.
Bill Clinton and Joe Biden were left with the task of describing the president’s first term and his performance in office. In a compelling speech, former President Clinton defended Obama’s work and made an argument for Democrats as job creators. Vice President Biden’s speech gave an insider’s look at the Obama White House. The veep took listeners into the situation room as President Obama watched the bin Laden raid and described the president’s calculated decision to save the auto industry.
Biden described how in both situations, things would have played out differently in a Romney administration. Romney has gone on record saying that the United States should not “move heaven and earth” to capture bin Laden and that it would be best to “let Detroit go bankrupt.”
In the grand finale, President Obama took the stage. The president laid out his goals for the next four years, but also harped back to his message from the 2008 campaign: hope. “I have never been more hopeful about America … I’m hopeful because of you,” he said.
With that, the Democratic infomercial ended. The important question: did people buy it?
Early returns from polls after the weekend show that Obama got the bounce he was hoping for. The president’s approval rating increased by five points, according to a Gallup poll. In a CNN poll of likely voters, Obama jumped to 52 percent, compared to Romney’s 46 percent. Before the Convention, the candidates were both at 48.
“Nate Silver”:http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/’s generally trusted forecasting method showed an 10 point jump in the Electoral College predictor for the president, an improvement of a point in the popular vote predictor and a jump to over 80 percent in Obama’s chances of winning.
In other words, the infomercial worked for Democrats. The opportunity to respond to the Republican convention, coupled with a well-crafted Democratic message and platform meant that the convention paid huge dividends for the party.
At a panel in Charlotte, Bloomberg editor and Penn professor Albert Hunt was asked if conventions are old fashion. He replied, “Yes and they are wonderful.”
Although the formalities of the old still echo through the halls of the convention — there are voice votes, motions and even a gavel — it is no longer a place for a party to pick a nominee. Rather, it is a place where a candidate is advertised and showcased. But for Democrats watching the numbers after the convention, they are still as wonderful as ever.
Adam Silver, a College junior and masters of public administration candidate from Scottsdale, Ariz, spent last week at the Democratic National Convention as part of a class through the Annenberg School of Commuication. “The Silver Lining” appears every Wednesday. His email address is email@example.com and you can follow him @adamtsilver.