Off the Press

September 11, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Delegates defy conventional wisdom

Warren Kagarise
Press reporter

Early on, I dismissed the 2012 Democratic and Republican conventions as prime-time infomercials for both parties, more spectacle than substance.

Scenes from the convention stages in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., seemed about as garish as Times Square. For proof, look no further than the Republicans’ set fashioned from 13 giant LED screens — and billed as “America’s living room.”

Cynicism abounds come campaign season, and I admit to feeling more than a little jaded about the parties’ conventions.

Until I talked to local delegates bound for Tampa and Charlotte.

Sure, delegates no longer conduct the actual business of choosing a nominee, but the conventions to nominate candidates for president and vice president still retain enough stature for the parties to articulate ideas to ever-more-polarized voters.

I found the delegates’ unyielding enthusiasm as almost refreshing — a tonic for all apathy and disenchantment ingrained in politics — even if the conventions seemed too calculated and too costly.

The calculation started with locations chosen to up the ante in swing states — Tampa for the Republicans and Charlotte for the Democrats.

Organizers in both parties rally — or, as some might say, pander to — the base. The party faithful, in turn, carry some enthusiasm home, alongside convention swag bags.

The effect is meant to trickle down the ballot to other, less-noticed races.

Ironically, as voters can engage in the conventions as never before, the events seem more designed to appeal to the delegates on the floor.

The decision in the superheated presidential race is left to a sliver of undecided voters in perhaps as many as 10 faraway swing states.

Remember, I spent many years in Florida, the largest swing state and the reluctant tiebreaker in the 2000 presidential election. (I recall watching live on cable TV as a yellow Ryder truck hauled the disputed ballots from Palm Beach County to Tallahassee.)

I do not miss the never-ending barrage of campaign spots, each seemingly more distorted or mean-spirited than the last.

Washington is far from swing state territory, and only the gubernatorial race burns hot enough to attract the national spotlight.

Still, local delegates took the conventions seriously — and not just the high-wattage speeches and party platform decisions.

Jennifer Sutton, a Democratic delegate from Issaquah, traveled to Charlotte for the convention and participated in a volunteer project to build a home for a North Carolina veteran.

Spearheaded by “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” host Ty Pennington, delegates at the Republican National Convention in Tampa built half, and then organizers shipped the project to Charlotte for completion by Democratic National Convention participants.

If conventions included more good deeds and maybe, just maybe, more than a nod to bipartisanship, then the parties’ parties do indeed matter, beyond the roll call and the rhetoric.

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