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Political conventions still make a difference
MIX A CYNICAL electorate with a multimillion-dollar “infomercial” and you get this question: Who cares about political conventions anymore?
Maybe it’s because I’ve been to more than my share over the years—some dramatic, some not, but all illuminating in one way or another.
Take the conventions in the summer of 1980, which led to the doomed and limping candidacy
of Jimmy Carter and the coronation of Ronald Reagan. Each has a hold on my memory, as do
so many others.
As packaged and predictable as they are, conventions provide a great opportunity to see the rising (and falling) stars of the two parties, along with the nominees’ best shot at “selling” their candidacies.
Can Mitt Romney finally convince voters to focus on the economy and to trust him as the man who can fix it?
Or will a hurricane and a linguistically and intellectually challenged Senate candidate in Missouri steal the show?
Can Barack Obama rekindle that post-partisan magic from 2008?
Or will the still-dismal economy make him look like a bruised one-termer?
These are the kinds of questions that can make or break candidates in the homestretch.
I still remember that awkward and tepid endorsement Edward Kennedy gave in 1980 to Jimmy Carter’s nomination for a second term.
Kennedy, bitter from his nomination loss, seemed to be eluding Carter’s embrace at that critical moment. Somehow Kennedy managed to wander about the Madison Square Garden stage without ever shaking the nominee’s hand. Whatever life remained in Carter’s candidacy was pretty much sucked dry.
Earlier that summer, when Republicans gathered in the Joe Louis Arena along the riverfront in Detroit, Ronald Reagan played an awkward-romance game with former President Gerald Ford. The convention hall was swept with the rumor that Reagan would offer his old rival, Ford, the vice presidential nomination. But talk from the Ford camp of a “co-presidency” squelched that possibility, and Reagan settled for George H.W. Bush.
That high-stakes might-have-been could have set back Reagan’s campaign.
But the Great Communicator quickly rebuilt his momentum, while Carter’s last gasp ended when the release of U.S. hostages in Iran didn’t come until after Election Day.
So what are the stakes this year?
Romney’s speech in Tampa tonight and next month’s attempt by Obama to re-create political magic have all the makings of memorable political melodrama.
Ed Jones: 540/374-5401