A week from today begins the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla. Talk Radio News Service will be there, along with 40 talk shows from the right, left and center. The biggest thing all of the shows want is to get the biggest guests and to find out from delegates in the swing states which way the wind maybe blowing in those states.
Since this is my fifth set of conventions, I will give you a bit of what to notice and to read between the lines at both conventions.
1) What people are wearing: No, not Vogue-type fashion but the slogans on T-shirts, the buttons and, of course, the hats. Republicans have always been more creative than Democrats in the hat department. It is often an expression of regional ware (cheese hats from Wisconsin) and also regional issues.
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2) What people are not saying: As I have written in columns before, a friend of mine says people are so scripted that you can say anything to them, such as "your house is on fire," and they will answer with, "The president says …" and then go on with their scripted points. What to look for? Long pauses and any morsel of words that is off script. The best way to hear something a bit different is to listen to interviews from the Democrat-oriented talk show hosts at the Republican convention and to listen to the Republican-oriented hosts at the Democratic convention. Other than that, it will be an agreement fest.
3) Look for any signs of deals. This will be hard to determine from home, but there are all kinds of deals being made. The platform used to be something candidates actually paid attention to. Now, they don't. But, the platform fights, both public and behind the scene, are a key to understanding the factions within the party and how much sway each stakeholder has. It is a predictor of the future of the party. Two people to watch – even if they are not speaking or even present at the Republican convention – are Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich. They carry huge swaths of ideas and direction that many people in the Republican Party want the party to take. People who were their champions will not go away. In the Democratic Party, look for the union influence, or lack thereof, this time around. There will not be the same voices we have seen in previous conventions. The Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo supporters are also people to watch. By January 2013, the actions of both Secretary Clinton and Gov. Cuomo will be on everyone's watch list.
4) The conventions are one huge job market. I remember the night Bill Clinton won in 1992. I was with a friend at the Democratic National Committee victory party. The first thing she said to me was, "Jobs!" What she did not know is that most of the jobs had been settled long ago, around the time of the convention. Those who worked in the campaign, were at the conventions and represented their states were going to be the first in line. Talent and "open" applications had very little to do with it. We were told in grade school U.S. history that civil service got rid of patronage. We can only wish.
5) The wannabes are in full force. These are not wannabes for this election cycle; these are people who have their eyes on 2014 and 2016. They want to be recognized, and they want to find out who they can hit up for money in the future. A congressman told me that they are "vultures" for tickets to every event. Every big party, every breakfast is something they want to go to. A mayoral run or a state run for state office all become fodder for making those connections, getting backing and meeting the "right" people, even if you are from the left.
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6) The one thing that will not make it to the airwaves, but may make it to the gossip sites, are the "hook-ups" and the drinking. There are a lot of secrets in this department and much behavior that delegates and other convention attenders do not want public. These are the days where the Internet is the media leader. If human behavior interests you – especially when people think no one is looking at them – watch the gossip sites.
Yes, conventions are scripted. Yes, they are our version of coronations. But if you scratch the surface, you can find out things you never expected, far away from the party line. I am really looking forward to it!