Speaking before the millions of people who attend or tune in to the Democratic National Convention is becoming something of a pastime for President Barack Obama. In 2004, he delivered the convention’s keynote address at Boston’s now-named TD Garden, where he touted Sen. John Kerry’s commitment to a bipartisan, unified America.
“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America—there’s the United States of America,” he said to onlookers in an attempt to encourage voters to oust then-President George W. Bush.
A short four years later, Democrats gathered in Denver and ushered in Obama as their new presidential candidate after a tumultuous primary battle between the Illinois senator and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton. In the dawn of his campaign against Republican hopeful John McCain, Obama accepted his nomination with a speech that expanded upon his 2004 premise. He promised to move past the red-blue binary and leave behind the era of “broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.”
“Hope” and “change” were some keywords of his platform. These terms not only resonated on a countrywide scale, but stood as goals for the federal government to end hyperpartisan legislation.
Denver Democrats received Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech with excitement, and the nation awarded him a decisive victory over McCain 11 weeks later.
Obama will take the national stage for a third consecutive time this September to accept his incumbent presidential nomination. Although a convention veteran, the stakes are high for Obama, as federal bipartisan collaboration has not panned out how he had envisioned over his first term. Congress saw halting partisan gridlocks on issues of healthcare, federal budget balancing and national security.
The Democrats’ proving ground will be Charlotte. From Sept. 3-6, members of the Democratic party and media will flock to battleground North Carolina—Obama’s most narrowly won state in 2008—and the state’s capital will transform into a political haven. According to plans that have been set for 2012’s convention, the Democrats seem to be taking a different approach—setting aside the pursuit of a unified America in favor of harboring a strong sense of community in the Democratic party.
The four-day affair will be the most “open and accessible” convention to the general public to date, said Steve Kerrigan, Democratic National Convention Committee CEO.
From the proliferation of digital communication outlets to the introduction of public events that make the convention take on some attributes of a state fair, members of the convention committee are working hard to excite the Democratic voter base and independents about the convention and general election. Although Obama’s approval rating has faltered among some of his major voting constituencies—women and Christians, most notably—the convention team is using modern tactics to re-infect voters with Obama fever.
Kerrigan lauded the convention’s website—demconvention.com—saying it will help engage more Americans than ever before by providing live convention updates and interactive material to those who cannot physically attend. Developers have also piloted a mobile application for the convention—a feature that has not been widely available in previous conventions.
“Whether you’re in Charlotte or anywhere else in the world, our website provides new and innovative ways to join the conversation and participate in the convention,” Kerrigan said. Additionally, the convention’s programming has undergone reform to fit the motifs of flowing accessibility and party engagement, added Sam Lau, deputy press secretary for the DNCC. Politically oriented programming has been shortened from four days to three in order to accommodate a public Labor Day event on the opening day of the convention at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The committee expects that the racing venue will be packed with people for a family-friendly festival that celebrates the Carolinas and the South, said DNCC spokeswoman Kristie Greco.
The following three days will resemble the events of previous conventions. On September 4, Democratic National Convention Chair Antonio Villaraigosa will gavel in to commence the convention proceedings at the Time Warner Cable Arena. For two evenings, Democrats will discuss issues facing the party and strategy for the remainder of the campaign. At the end of discussion, on the night of Sept. 5, approximately 500 delegates will cast their vote and will be expected to nominate Obama nearly unanimously.
The final day of convention proceedings will be another massive draw to the public, Lau said. On the 50-yard line of the nearly 75,000-seat Bank of America Stadium, Obama will deliver his second acceptance speech. The convention expects to attract around 15,000 members of the media, Greco noted.
Throughout the four days, nearly 1,200 convention-sponsored public events will take place that will be staffed by around 10,000 volunteers, Lau added. Events will include a youth caucus in which university- and high school-aged Democrats are encouraged to brainstorm solutions the party and nation face today, and a small music festival that features tribute bands to American rock music classics like Journey and The Eagles.
“Convention attendees should pursue their interests and make sure to take advantage of this historic opportunity,” Lau added. “The success of the convention will depend on the involvement of Americans at the grassroots level and on the participation of everyday Americans in the political process.”
The Democrats’ current theme of community over political clout and big corporation is further exemplified in the way the party has decided to fund the convention. The DNCC collectively decided to disallow corporate cash donations to limit the influence of special interest groups, Greco said. There are no restrictions on labor union donations.
“For the first time in history, the convention is not accepting cash donations from corporations, lobbyists and [political action committees],” she said. “[The Democratic National Convention is] limiting individual donations to $100,000, and is engaging in an aggressive grassroots fundraising program, allowing more Americans to be involved.”
These unconventional tactics have been a point of conflict by putting the party a bit behind its fundraising schedule, according to a Wall Street Journal report. In early May, Democrats were about $20 million short of their $36.7 million fundraising goal, and some labor unions have refused to contribute because NC is sometimes known as an unfriendly state to unions. “When they kicked it off, they advertised it as the first convention that would be paid for ëby the people, for the people,’” said Rob Lockwood, communications director of the North Carolina Republican Party. “Well, the people aren’t paying. This whole convention is becoming a political liability for the Democrats.”
Suzi Emmerling, press secretary for Charlotte in 2012, a nonprofit organization responsible for funding the convention, declined to comment on how much money has already been raised and where the specific donations have come from, but said Democrats are on their way to reaching their goal.
Yet Lockwood remained skeptical of Democrats’ prospects of meeting their funding target. He said Democrats would have to default on their promise to stay away from corporate and lobbyist sponsorship to keep up politically and to accommodate for their early fundraising shortcomings. Doing so would contradict Democrats’ efforts to pin Republicans as manipulative politicians and proponents of super-wealthy businesses, he added. Democrats have even endorsed and sought funding from super PACs such as Priorities USA Action, despite previously having criticized the proliferation of such groups and independent spending.
“For Democrats, it’s a financial nightmare,” he noted. “They’ll break every rule they set forth upon themselves to fund it—taking corporate money, taking lobbyist money, taking tax money.”