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U.S. presidential nominating convention
A U.S. presidential nominating convention is held every four years in the United States by the political parties who will be fielding nominees in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. The two major conventions are the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention, though minor parties such as the United States Green Party, the United States Libertarian Party, and Reform Party USA also hold conventions. Attendees of the convention are called delegates. The formal role of the convention is to pick the party's nominee for President, through a vote of all the delegates; however, in reality this role has been almost entirely abdicated.
In previous years, the conventions were often heated affairs, playing a vital role in deciding who would be the nominee. However, in the election of 1968, this system broke down, producing widespread unhappiness with the nominee (Hubert Humphrey) and rioting at the convention in Chicago (in large part due to the method of selecting delegates, who were often appointed by party bosses). The media images of the event--angry mobs facing down police--would stick in the public's mind, and do great damage to the image of the Democratic party. It was decided that a new, less controversial method of choosing nominees was necessary, and a commission, headed by George McGovern, settled on the primary election. Since then, nearly all delegates to the Democratic convention have been chosen through the primary method (the Republicans followed suit).
Due to this, the convention has lost almost all of its old drama. In the past, people often did not know who would be the nominee until the convention itself, often taking multiple ballots at the convention to determine the final winner. However, in the 2004 election, the Democratic nomination was unofficially "decided" (that is, all major competitors had dropped out) by early March, when the convention was to be held in late July.
The conventions also produce a political platform, made up of goals and proposals called "planks". This platform is often used as a sop to extremists within the party, who are unhappy with the moderate nature of the candidate himself; for instance, the 1996 Republican platform called for the abolition of the Department of Education. Unlike in many European countries, the platform is not binding on either the party or the candidate, and so has little real significance.
The convention is often used by the parties as a campaign event, designed to draw public attention and favor to its nominee. Although the convention has always played this role, it has become ever more prevalent as the actual reason for the convention--deciding the nominee--has receded into the spring primary elections. As the drama leaked out of the conventions, and complaints grew that they were scripted and dull pep rallies, the television networks grew more and more reluctant to put them on TV, as they had done in the past.
Typically, the entire convention is organized around TV coverage. Speeches by noted and popular party figures are scheduled for the coveted prime time hours, when most people are watching. However, viewership has declined consistently ever since the beginning of primary elections, leading to a loss of advertising revenue for the networks. As such, they have fought to televise less and less of the conventions, leading many (especially those involved in politics) to accuse them of shirking their civic duty.
Structure of the convention
Typically, the convention is held in a major city; for example, in the 2004 election, the Democratic convention was held in Boston, Massachusetts (the home base of John Kerry, the nominee), while the Republican convention was held in New York City. During the day, party activists hold meetings and rallies, and work on the platform. Evenings are reserved for major speeches by notable, respected public figures; the speakers at the 2004 Democratic convention included Ted Kennedy, a forty-year veteran of the United States Senate and notable liberal, and Jimmy Carter, a former Democratic president, while at the Republican convention speakers include Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Pataki, popular and nationally-known governors of major states. These speeches are intended to be televised to a wider audience than those watching the convention during the day (coverage of the day activities is generally restricted to small cable television networks like C-SPAN).
The convention typically features speeches from the nominees for President and Vice President. The presidential nominee generally speaks on the last day of the convention, when he formally accepts the nomination. Despite the recent controversy, networks always cover the acceptance speech, because it receives the highest ratings of the convention.
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