Democrats Shorten Convention to Three Days

Democrats Shorten Convention to Three Days

By Alexis Simendinger - January 17, 2012

Votes in the South may be in doubt, President Obama and the Democratic National Committee decided, but his delegate support is not. So the president's September nominating convention in Charlotte will shrink to three days while Labor Day will become a telegenic "y'all come" festival in that city aimed at wooing Southern, white and NASCAR voters.

Organizers of the events said Tuesday that the president is intent on appealing to families in the Carolinas, Virginia and elsewhere around the South, and Democrats selected Charlotte for that reason. On his way to capturing 365 electoral votes in 2008, Obama won Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, but polls suggest he will be challenged to repeat those successes as the incumbent.

NASCAR fans (and the raceway TV coverage) became an attractive political target for President Bush in 2004 and for Obama in 2008.

This year’s convention planners, who heralded the president’s demand for “inclusiveness,” confirmed Tuesday that Obama’s acceptance speech will take place Sept. 6 at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium. The Labor Day event, open to the public, will take place at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sept. 3.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair, told reporters that altering the traditional format will allow Democrats to show a “very clear contrast that our convention will present, compared with other conventions.” One “other” convention -- at which the GOP nominee and his running mate will be feted in Tampa -- takes place Aug. 27-30, the week before Obama’s kickoff.

Contrast is the name of the game for Democrats in this election. But so is television coverage after years of waning media enthusiasm for four long nights of political speeches followed by suspense-free nominations. A shorter format this year could save the DNC some bucks, because the Charlotte Host Committee -- community donors of all political stripes -- will pick up the tab for the Labor Day event at the speedway.

Organizers of the Democratic National Convention, led by convention CEO Steve Kerrigan, denied that eliminating a day of events at the Time Warner Cable Arena was intended to trim costs. Kerrigan said the party would work within a $37 million convention budget. But Democrats find themselves challenged to raise money within a self-imposed donation cap of $100,000, plus a ban on business and lobbyist contributions, for an event that has a suspense-free outcome. Staging Obama’s acceptance speech in the Carolina Panthers’ 74,000-seat stadium will open sky boxes to corporate donors during the most-watched live event of the week.

For decades, nominating conventions have drifted away from party-building and delegate arm-twisting and toward political theater designed by professionals to garner free-media coverage as voters head toward Election Day.

The Democrats also waved away questions about the awkward pairing of Obama’s acceptance speech in a stadium named for the Bank of America, which is headquartered in Charlotte. The bank was one of the largest recipients of federal assistance after it teetered under the weight of toxic mortgage holdings.

Since the financial meltdown of 2008, Obama has lurched between courting and rebuking the nation’s big banks. His enactment of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law won him few friends in the financial world, and his populist re-election strategy of siding with the middle class against the economic interests of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans further drains support within that community.

The site for the president’s 2012 acceptance speech was swiftly criticized as hypocritical Tuesday by the GOP.

At the Denver convention in 2008, the president delivered a fireworks-and-dazzle extravaganza before millions of TV-watchers and a crowd of close to 76,000 at the Broncos’ stadium. Until that time, no nominee since John F. Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1960 had delivered an acceptance speech in such a large arena. 

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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