This was the first national political convention that I have attended. What was it like? Equal parts pep rally, class reunion, and off-Broadway play – off-Broadway because some of the performances were less than sterling, including that of the male lead. I quickly realized that the floor of the convention is the worst possible place from which to watch. This is a made-for-TV event, and those of us who were inside the bubble of the Xcel Center had no idea what the commentators and the spinmeisters were saying. Each night, on the way out of the arena to catch the buses back to the hotels, huge crowds gathered by the giant screen atop the Fox News operation to watch the commentary and learn what they had missed.
The Texas delegates were the head cheerleaders. They dressed alike every night. I have already posted about the fashion statement on the first night, with their Governor Perry shirts. Here’s who was NOT in unform: David Dewhurst and Kay Bailey Hutchison. On the last night, the delegation wore Lone Star flag shirts – one side was navy with a giant white star, the other divided into blocks of white and red. The delegates waved their Stetsons at every opportunity. They went nuts when railroad commissioner Michael Williams spoke. It was a very odd scene: three thousand delegates clapping politely for this guy they didn’t know from Adam, and some two-hundred-plus Texans going berserk with sustained applause, as if this were 2000 and W. had taken the stage.
The delegates sat in folding chairs that were wedged together, no space between them. The round stage was elevated, but there were no screens in the arena on which they could get a closeup view. (I noticed that the action did appear on the four screens on the hockey scoreboard–which, unfortunately, had been hoisted into the rafters.) To get to a bathroom from the floor required at least a 200-foot walk, part of which required a substantial climb through forty or so rows of seating in the lower section of the arena. That is, assuming you could find a path through the media people who were packed in between the delegates and the permanent seating and weren’t about to give up their four square feet of floor space. In the walkways by, TV screens were everywhere, so you could stop and watch the cable news broadcasts. Unfortunately, there was no volume, so you couldn’t hear the commentators or the speakers.
I was amused at the lowly status of the periodical press. The TV-radio folks had the run of the place. They had their own booths. The dailies had three sections of the arena with flat surfaces on which to put their laptops. Periodical press had nonreserved seating in one section for which there were many more passes than seats. I never bothered to go there. We could get one-hour floor passes, but if you didn’t bring yours back on time, you wouldn’t get another one. Or so they said. I didn’t test them. Fortunately, they let me renew my floor pass for the Palin and McCain speeches.
I’m not complaining. It was great to be there. You could feel the mood, especially the anticipation that built for Palin’s speech on day three. It was an historic moment. If this had been the old days, when the bosses ran the convention and the galleries could create a stampede, Palin would have wrested the nomination from McCain that night, as Wendell Willkie, a former Democrat who had never held political office, did from Thomas Dewey in 1940, before primaries came along to lock up most of the delegates, and reforms decimated the old big-city machines. It was easy, too, to pick up the lack of enthusiasm for McCain.
Palin was THE story of this convention. How she is perceived over the next few weeks is going to be one of the most important developments in the campaign, not just for this year but for 2012. If McCain loses, Palin will be a frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2012. If Obama loses, and McCain serves just one term, the 2012 presidential race could be between two women: Palin and Clinton. The problem for Palin is that she is a novice as a national figure. She needs to get some experience in the rough and tumble of national politics if she is going to be a force in 2012.