The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

The Grand Scale of Our Political Conventions


Subscribers have already received the first Morning Jolt of the week, full of new poll results, an examination of why we still have conventions, and then these observations from on the ground in Tampa . . .

Rain, Rain, Go Away . . .

TEMPLE TERRACE, Fla. — The 2012 Republican National Convention is not a mess . . . yet. But the story of this year’s gathering of Republicans from near and far is a bit more complicated than we expected, with tonight’s events canceled. Briefly Sunday afternoon there was a rumor of some events moving to Friday — but because Romney’s speech will not move from Thursday, any parties, events or party activities held afterwards will be afterthoughts — and with almost all of the convention-goers scheduled to fly out on Friday, probably sparsely attended as well.

The other complication is that Isaac may make landfall Tuesday evening, right in the Gulf Coast. The states of Louisiana and Alabama and the city of Biloxi, Mississippi, have declared states of emergency; some evacuations are in effect in Florida and Alabama is considering them. While I have absolute faith that Governor Jindal and the state of Louisiana, National Guardsmen, etc., will pull out all the stops for preparation, the eyes and minds of the nation may be more focused on the drama of the hurricane than the goings-on at the convention. But it’s hard to begrudge RNC Reince Priebus and the rest of the convention organizers their caution. While most of the country is still dealing with drought, this part of Florida has been drenched in recent months; the local coverage suggests that one of the biggest worries around here is flooding — the local ground just can’t absorb much more. The last thing the Republicans need is some bus full of delegates getting stuck in a ditch somewhere – if for no other reason, it would trigger another round of insufferably unfunny drinking-a-Slurpee metaphors in Obama speeches.

A few more observations from Tampa . . .

Security: It is a depressing statement on our age how the perimeter of a national convention site has to look like a war zone: chain-link fence after chain-link fence, concrete barrier after concrete barrier, armed guard after armed guard. Don’t get me wrong, all of the security personnel are exceptionally polite and professional so far. It’s just a bit dispiriting to arrive at a site where you hope to witness political history being made, and the first landscape you encounter resembles the DMZ* between North and South Korea.

The Scale of It All: I keep hearing how my profession is dying, and that the need to generate healthy profits in an increasingly web-dominated world is corroding and squeezing the life out of journalism. Year by year, we hear about the end of various newspapers and magazines . . . and then you come to a convention like this, and find yourself squeezing through the crowds made up of the other 14,999 journalists here. The acreage of the workspaces, Google’s lounge in the media center, the sheer number of workspaces set up for wire services, the networks, etc. is all pretty jaw-dropping. You will be pretty surprised who’s here, too; I’m fairly certain I saw a sign for Cuban state television. Maybe they feel at home with all of the chain-link fences and armed guards.

The economics of covering conventions elude me, at least for a massive operation like the networks. Almost all of the national television news networks have affiliates in a city like Tampa or Charlotte year round, so if they had to cover breaking news in one of those cities, they could do so. For the conventions, however, the networks bring in almost their entire Washington staff, and mobilize almost literal small armies of technicians, planners, movers, producers, go-fers, runners, event coordinators, etc. to create several sets, run miles of cable, etc. All of this for four nights of live coverage — well, now three, I guess. Then they’ll pack everything up and move it all to Charlotte for another week or so. I’m not complaining, I’m just marveling at the enormity of the effort. I suppose the networks see this as one of the truly memorable television moments of a presidential campaign, and there’s probably some one-upmanship – every network wants to show off that they have the most complete coverage. Of course, that raises the question of how many hours they televise, which we’ll reexamine in item three . . .


And now, the very finest photography of the Sunday night preparations that you will find, at least while using a Samsung camera phone:

Tuesday night will feature a tribute to Neil Armstrong:

For three nights, the balloons will just tease us from above:

The VIP seats.

* In the version of the Jolt that went out to readers, “DMZ” was originally “DMV.” You know, there are long lines here, too . . .

Tags: Republican National Convention


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