CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A political Disney World.
That’s how Annenberg School of Communication professor David Eisenhower described the Republican National Convention and this week’s Democratic counterpart.
And after just one day in Charlotte, N.C., it was clear that he was dead on.
I am one of the lucky 20 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in “Conventions, Debates and Campaigns,” a class co-taught by Eisenhower, former Rep. Marjorie Margolies and Fels Institute of Government Director David Thornburgh. Eight students attended last week’s Republican Convention, and 12 of us are in Charlotte this week.
On Monday, the day before the Convention officially started, we explored downtown Charlotte and got a feel for what is to come.
The day started off with a bang with a unique opportunity to go behind the scenes at MSNBC.
With my classmate College senior Sally Bronston’s and Margolies’ connections at the network, we ended up sitting down with Chris Matthews, host of “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”
Matthews, whose daughter graduated from Penn in 2011, told us everything from the upcoming election to the hidden stories of the convention.
Penn alumna and NBC Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell surprised us when she stopped in to say hello to Margolies.
It was a rare opportunity to sit down with one of the stars of MSNBC who is highly respected in the industry, and an experience that opened my eyes to everything the convention has to offer.
We continued our way through the media hub of the convention, catching a glimpse of Mitchell sitting down with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on MSNBC’s outdoor set.
With the help of Albert Hunt, we then arrived at Bloomberg Link, the temporary headquarters of the company at the convention. Hunt is the executive editor of Bloomberg’s Washington bureau and teaches a class at Annenberg every spring.
Bloomberg, along with the Harvard Institute of Politics and Annenberg’s sister school on the West Coast at the University of Southern California, hosted a panel about the intersection of politics and new media.
Among those on the panel were Obama for America press secretary Ben LaBolt and Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of The Washington Post.
The sole female member of the panel was Olivia Ma, the news manager at YouTube. She discussed the ways in which YouTube is influencing how campaigns operate, including livestreams of events like the conventions and hundreds of thousands of user-generated videos about the candidates.
We heard from many great speakers, but my personal favorite was Marcel Groen, the chair of the Democratic Committee in Montgomery County, just outside of Philadelphia. I felt personally connected to him because I have lived in Montgomery County my entire life.
After being asked a question about the new voter ID law in Pennsylvania, Groen shared his family background.
The son of Holocaust survivors, he grew up learning that the United States was the country of opportunity. He was therefore appalled that voter ID laws have been passed in America and expressed that they were more fitting for a totalitarian regime.
He shared the story of a blind woman who had been voting for 60 years but didn’t have a state ID and had no way of acquiring one. His committee helped arrange for the woman to go to a licensing center to get an ID in order to vote.
Eisenhower chimed in, noting that his mother, who lives in Pennsylvania, does not have a state ID either.
A poignant story, it was a reminder of how real people can be affected by legislation.
Our first night at the convention ended with two fancy parties full of political celebrities.
The first, held at a Brazilian steakhouse, was hosted by law firm Cozen-O’Connor. The second was for the Pennsylvania delegation.
Among those we met at the two events were former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, Penn alumnus and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey.
Even the day before the Convention officially began, the excitement was palpable. I feel really fortunate to be a part of it.