Tale of the tape

If elections were decided by a tale-of-the-tape comparison of the two political conventions, Democrats would win this year’s ballot, hands down.

With few exceptions, the Democratic National Convention in Denver had better public access, more issue-oriented speeches, more great speeches, greater diversity and incredible parties.

As someone who attended both conventions, not just in the hall, but on the ground with local delegates, here is my own comparison.

— Most overlooked speech: Sen. John Kerry’s Aug. 27 remarks at the Democratic convention were overshadowed by the Clintons and vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, and not even carried live on cable news channels.

As someone who’s not a big Kerry fan, I found his remarks hit straight to the issues in a perfect mix of seriousness and self-deprecation. Here was the party’s 2004 presidential nominee, the consummate flip-flopper, using his time to call out a little hypocrisy.

"Candidate McCain now supports the wartime tax cuts that Senator McCain once denounced as immoral," Kerry said. "Candidate McCain criticizes Senator McCain’s own climate change bill. Candidate McCain says he would now vote against the immigration bill that Senator McCain wrote. Are you kidding? Talk about being for it before you’re against it."

— Fact-checks: Both parties spun some nice yarns. Democrats linked McCain to President Bush by saying he voted for the president’s agenda 90 percent of the time (Barack Obama, Biden and Kerry) and 95 percent of the time (Bill Richardson and Howard Dean).

The truth? Congressional Quarterly reports the figure at 90 percent, while McCain had been with Bush 95 percent of the time a few years ago. As Obama put it: "I’m not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change."

The Republicans had a few doozies, particularly around vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s experience as an "earmark fighter." But man, were they great lines.

Palin still got applause in her Sept. 3 speech repeating the already-debunked line: "I told Congress, ‘Thanks but no thanks,’ on that bridge to nowhere."

And former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee brought the house down with another Palin yarn: "She got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States."

Even if you use the current population estimate of Wasilla (9,780) and assume Palin got all the votes, she’s nowhere near Biden’s 79,754 in all of the Democratic primaries.

— Diversity: Not even close. Every Democratic delegation had unmatched diversity along racial, gender, sexual orientation, age and class lines. When you walked the GOP floor of St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, on the other hand, you really had to seek out someone who wasn’t white.

The Daily Show even had a funny billboard out on Minnesota 494 N-West (more about the weird traffic farther down). It said: "Welcome rich, white oligarchs."

— Delegations: Each of the two parties had internal struggles. The Democrats arrived in Denver with more than a few delegates not on board the unity train. In the end they aired their differences in public, with eight delegates voting for Hillary Clinton.

The Republicans arranged seating charts to keep the four Ron Paul delegates out of trouble. But even that didn’t end at least one shouting match on the floor (as witnessed by Anjeanette Damon of the Reno Gazette-Journal). And while the official vote was announced as unanimous for McCain, the Nevada Paulites didn’t leave Paul in St. Paul. None of them say they plan to vote for McCain in November.

— Logistics: When you live in Las Vegas and are fairly used to roads either going north-south or east-west, it’s a little unsettling to be on Minnesota 35E-North or 35W-North, made no easier with the construction. In Denver, public buses, light rail and recycling were all a breeze.

— Best-received speech you didn’t see (unless you’re a really sick political junkie): Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer talking about his "united state" in a folksy, animated way that addressed the "change we need" brilliantly.

— Best keynote: Rudy Giuliani didn’t do the vision thing like Democratic Senate candidate Mark Warner. And that was a good thing.

— Best use of Lincoln: The Republicans had a nice video montage about the founder of their party, but as the narration talked about his excellent communication skills, Ronald Reagan’s face abruptly popped up over Lincoln’s shoulder with the line, "until another came along." Then Reagan disappeared and there was more Lincoln. Just plain weird.

Al Gore wins the best use of Lincoln, talking about how a man with just one term in Congress "showed the courage and wisdom to oppose the invasion of another country that was popular when it started but later condemned by history."

— Best look: Palin can poke fun at the Democrats’ use of "Styrofoam columns" all she wants, but Invesco Field at Mile High provided an unparalleled visual setting. Balloon drops will just never be the same. Sorry, GOP.


Contact Erin Neff at eneff@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2906.

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