WASHINGTON—The Capitol may appear to be running on cruise control as Congress takes its annual five-week summer recess, but the temperature of U.S. politics will rise as Republicans and Democrats move toward the national conventions at the end of the month.
Public attention to the conventions this year will be particularly intense as the contest between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney is close, according to Dr. Seth Masket, associate professor of political science at the University of Denver.
“The election will probably just be decided by a point or two, and we know the conventions can actually move the polls in one direction or another,” said Dr. Masket to The Epoch Times.
The effect of the conventions may be temporary, he added, “but given how close things are, that kind of effect can, at least in the short-run, make a pretty big difference.”
Both parties will hold their conventions in the conservative South this year, within a week of each other.
The Republican National Convention (RNC) will be held in Tampa, Fla., over three days from Aug. 27 to 30. A high-profile lineup of speakers was announced on Monday, including former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, 2008 presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), and Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.).
The Democratic National Convention (DNC) will take place in Charlotte, N.C., over two days on September 4 and 5, one week following the RNC. Former President Bill Clinton will speak along with firebrand Elizabeth Warren, the Senate contender for Ted Kennedy’s long-held Democrat seat in Massachusetts, which went to Republican Scott Brown in a shock loss in 2010.
First Lady Michelle Obama, whose approval rating topped 71 percent according to a CNN poll taken in May, will also speak along with a rising star from the Latino community, popular San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.
National conventions in the United States take place every four years, in line with presidential elections. Each state sends delegates to vote on or confirm their party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates.
The party platform, a plan for the next four years, is also laid out, but the details are overtaken by hype as thousands join in on the political extravaganza. With millions of dollars spent in production, hugely energized crowds, and wide television coverage, the conventions have been described, somewhat facetiously, as ‘coronations.’
Despite the hype, John Hudak, political analyst with the Brookings Institution, says national conventions play an important role in the lead-up to the general election.
“Generally, what conventions are about is firing up the base, raising money, and about organizing the party in the final 10 weeks before the elections,” said Hudak to The Epoch Times.
Choosing speakers is critical, as the choice is a way of uniting a diversity of views within a party. It is also challenging.
“Because you have to satisfy so many constituencies … the money of the party, the core, the base of the party, and then also appeal to swing votes and to do so on prime-time television, you really need to balance who speaks, when they speak, and what they speak about,” Hudak said.
Balancing Old and New
Both parties are inevitably keen to exhibit the experience and wisdom of older representatives, the depth of the party and what it stands for, as well as fresh faces looking forward. This is evident in both parties’ choice of speakers this year.
Generally, what conventions are about is firing up the base, raising money, and about organizing the party in the final 10 weeks before the elections.
—John Hudak, Brookings Institution
In choosing Bill Clinton, whose approval rating remains high, alongside recognized progressive Elizabeth Warren plus Julián Castro, the Democrats are alluding to the successes of the past while making a conscious move to more liberalism in the future, says Hudak.
“I think it shows the willingness of the party to embrace its roots and also its core, rather than trying to put out the façade of a moderate or a centrist party,” he said.
The selection of little-known Castro is an effort to reach out to the increasing Latino population, but it also harkens back to Obama’s political debut, when he gave a speech at the 2004 convention that is still talked about today.
“It is a way for the president to connect to the Latino vote, and also put a young fresh face on the party,” said Hudak. “I think his speech is going to be a little bit reminiscent of his speech in ‘04.”
Republicans announced a lengthy list of speakers on Monday, including experienced elder statesmen and women along with state officials who have made an impact on the party: Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.), Gov. Susana Martinez (R-N.M.), Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), and Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).
The choices appeal to elements within the Republican Party that have not been locked in behind Mitt Romney, but they are also intended to influence swing states, said Dr. Robert Alexander, associate professor of political science at Ohio Northern University.
“The first wave of speakers introduced for the RNC, speaks to the importance of swing states in this election and to the Republican Party’s attempt to reach out to minorities—most especially women and Hispanics,” said Dr. Alexander in an email to The Epoch Times.
Dr. Alexander pointed to Kasich and Scott, noting that neither is particularly popular in their states, “Nonetheless, their selection underscores the importance of both Ohio and Florida to Mitt Romney’s success in November.”
“The selection of Haley, Martinez, and Rice undoubtedly works to put a more female and ethnic face on the Republican Party,” he said.
The last and most significant political event to come is the announcement of Mitt Romney’s running mate, vice president. The much-awaited announcement could come as early as this week.
University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato has placed Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) ahead of outsiders Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.).
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