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National Party Conventions

Nominating a U.S. President and Vice-President

(Election Focus, July 14, 2004) pdf

In late July the Democratic Party will gather in Boston to officially nominate Massachusetts Senator John Kerry as its presidential candidate and North Carolina Senator John Edwards as its vice-presidential nominee. In late August Republicans will hold a similar event in New York City to officially confirm incumbent George W. Bush as their candidate for president and Vice President Dick Cheney as the vice-presidential candidate. In addition to nominating presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the conventions will establish party positions in the platform.

A political convention formally launches a presidential campaign and functions as a quadrennial party meeting. Traditionally, conventions served as a mechanism for building consensus among party factions and convention delegates determined who would become nominated candidates. After the election reforms of the 1970s and 1980s, the nominating conventions no longer entailed party leaders deliberating over candidates but involved delegates confirming their support of a candidate. Today, party conventions attempt to provide a definition of what the party represents and how it will support the electorate's preferences.

The federal government grants $14.9 million to each of the two major parties for convention expenses. Campaign Finance Institute data concluded that both parties would spend a total of $220 million on their conventions this year.

Representing each of the 50 states and the territories (the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands and Democrats Abroad from 12 different countries), 4,353 delegates and 611 alternates will attend the 2004 Democratic National Convention, June 26 --29, in Boston, Massachusetts. More than eighty percent of the delegates were chosen from results of the vote from the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses. Delegates are pledged to candidates in proportion to their success in the state primary or caucus. As candidates dropped out of the race and endorsed Kerry, they freed their delegates to vote their consciences. Because of the unity of the Democratic Party, Kerry's nomination at the convention is likely to be unanimous. The remaining, unpledged, ex-officio delegates are governors, Democratic Senators, congressmen, and officials of the Democratic National Committee. The twelfth amendment to the U.S. constitution specifies that the president and vice-president must run for their respective offices as a team. In the past vice presidential candidates were not always selected before the convention nor identified until party leaders chose the nominees at the convention. Over the last forty years, the presidential nominee and vice-presidential nominee of a party are increasingly identified before the convention.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said, "We're going to have training sessions every day, all day, which is something different than we've ever done before. Everybody's going to leave this convention with an assignment: They have to do something to help John Kerry become president."

The key speakers at the convention have already been announced. Former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Gore and former President Carter will speak on the opening night. Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of presumed nominee John Kerry, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Christie Vilsack of Iowa and Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona will deliver speeches on the second night. Ron Reagan, the younger son of the late President Ronald Reagan, will address the convention about the importance of stem cell research, prompted in part by his late father's battle with Alzheimer's disease. The convention's last night traditionally features the presidential and vice-presidential acceptance speeches.

Representing 50 states and the territories (the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam and the Virgin Islands), 2,509 delegates and 2,344 alternate delegates will attend the 2004 Republican National Convention, August 30 -- September 2, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Arizona Senator John McCain and New York's former mayor, Rudolph Giuliani will address the convention the first evening. First Lady Laura Bush, Secretary of Education Rob Paige, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger deliver speeches on the second night. Mrs. Lynne Cheney, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Senator Zell Miller will speak on Wednesday evening. New York Governor George Pataki and President Bush will address the delegates on the final night of the convention.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said, "I know that there's not much suspense at conventions anymore, but any time an individual becomes the nominee for president of the United States of one of the two major parties in this country, it's significant. And it should be treated as such."

The creation and adoption of the party platform occurs prior to the formal nominations of the presidential and vice-presidential candidate. Convention resolutions became known as a "platform" in 1852 when Democratic National Convention delegates approved a "platform of resolutions." The first Republican platform in 1856 called for the prohibition of the extension of slavery into the territories. Platform writing used to be the exclusive domain of party leaders at the national convention. Today, however, the platform writing process entails a Platform Committee and Policy Council that gathers data on a variety of topics from private organizations, Congress, universities, government and private citizens. According to the New York Times, "party platforms carry no authority beyond providing a kind of snapshot of the leadership's thinking and a distillation of its assessment of the public's mood." Academic studies have shown, however, that much of the party platform is enacted in the public policy of the party that wins the presidency.

Convention organizers will urge cable channels, newspapers, radio and the Internet to broadcast the conventions and bring their message to potential voters. The Democrats will feature a "talk show row," an area designated for radio interviews and the first convention "blog", an interactive online journal. In addition, Internet writers, known as bloggers, will join journalists and broadcasters in the designated press section for the first time. The Internet has become a new media source for campaign news and convention coverage. The Pew Research Center for People and the Press surmised, "The Internet, a relatively minor source for campaign news in 2000, is now on par with such traditional outlets as public-television broadcasts, Sunday-morning news programs, and the weekly news magazines."

Although the media still play an important role in modern national conventions, broadcast networks have decreased campaign coverage from 100 prime-time hours in 1976 to 23 hours in 2000 due to the early selection of presidential nominees, eliminating much of the suspense of earlier conventions. Nielsen Media Research data reported that CNN secured approximately 1.5 million viewers each evening of the 2000 conventions live coverage while ABC attracted an estimated 5.7 million nightly.

Convention organizers are reaching out to younger audiences and potential voters this year. The Republican Party and the Democratic Party are sponsoring an essay competition with MTV for contestants 18 to 24 years old. The contest will feature two winners, one speaker at each convention.

The official Web site for the Republican Party's convention is

The official Web site for the Democratic Party's convention is