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Political National Conventions and Why They Matter

What goes on at national conventions, and why are they considered critical for America’s political parties?

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Officially, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are presidential nominating conventions held every four years. The original purpose of the meetings was to confirm and officially nominate their candidates for president and vice president, set party goals and principles as part of their party platform, and update the nominating process for future elections.

In the beginning, presidential nominations were done solely during the political parties’ national convention. Primaries were held, but they weren’t used to choose election candidates as they do today. Things changed after the controversy of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Up to that point, the candidacy went to whoever could control the convention, regardless of how many primaries they won.

This convention nominated Hubert Humphrey, the pro-war vice president of Lyndon B. Johnson, when more than 80% of primary votes had been for anti-war candidates. Anti-war and counterculture demonstrators began to protest outside the convention. Security for the convention were dubbed the aggressors for violently attacking and arresting protesters, journalists, and spectators in the area. To avoid a repeat of this in the future, the Democratic Party began giving more weight to the primary votes. Eventually, the Republicans followed suit.

Once the primary process was taken more seriously the meetings began to grow in importance for other reasons. The Democratic National Convention started to implement racial quotas for its delegates to match the diversity of its voter base. More controversial issues like abortion and LGBT rights were now open to discussion for all to debate, driving a change into this system.

Another critical aspect of the presidential nominating conventions is the spotlight that they give to rising stars within their party. Former President Barack Obama became an overnight sensation after delivering the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, with his memoir becoming a bestseller practically overnight. He transitioned this popularity into a landslide victory in his Illinois Senate race just a few months later. Obama brought himself into the national spotlight with his speech, and it played a large role in his achieving the nomination in 2008 and becoming president.

For the Republican National Convention, many essential debates have been held over the last few decades regarding the party platform. While Republicans have tended to keep an emphasis on uniting under one platform and not attacking fellow Republicans, exceptions have occurred once in a while. Many credited George H. W. Bush’s failed re-election to the split in the party at the 1992 Republican National Convention.

At the 1996 Republican National Convention, debate arose regarding the party’s stance on abortion. This debate became another example of Republican disunity that disorganized the party and led to many splinter factions forming. Even today, there is still debate regarding the importance of abortion as a leading party issue within the Republican Party that can be traced back to this debate almost a generation ago.

During the 2020 national conventions in the next two weeks, we have seen the confirmation of Joe Biden and Donald Trump as the official party candidates during the November 3 election.

For Republicans, this convention is the opportunity to give a glimpse the party’s future platform and the plan of action if Trump is voted in for a second term. Democrats sought to energize their base to get out and vote against President Trump and to reassure their supporters that the choice of the Joe Biden will be the future of America come Election Day.

Jose Backer, General Assignment Reporter, is a graduate of St. Michael's College and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Political Science. Born and raised in Southern California, he currently resides in the Pasadena area.

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