With only two months remaining before the presidential elections, both the Republican and Democratic parties have held their national conventions to formally select their respective candidates.
Whether you’re interested in politics or not, the presidential election is especially important to all Americans and the conventions are an integral part of this process.
Looking back on how the convention process got started and how it has evolved over the years is both interesting and educational.
The first party conventions were all held in Baltimore, with the Anti-Masonic Party holding the first in 1831 and nominating William Wirth as its presidential candidate.
The next year, 1832, the National Republicans (precursor to the Whigs and the modern Republican Party) held their convention and nominated Speaker of the U.S. House Henry Clay as their nominee.
The Democratic Party also held its first convention in 1832 and re-nominated President Andrew Jackson, who handily won re-election later that year.
Prior to the formal nominations of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the creation and adoption of the party platform occurs. Convention resolutions became known as a “platform” in 1852 when a “platform of resolutions” was approved by the Democratic National Convention delegates. In 1856, the first Republican platform called for the prohibition of the extension of slavery into the territories.
Whereas platform writing used to be the exclusive domain of party leaders at the national conventions, the process now goes through a Platform Committee and Policy Council that gathers data on a variety of topics from private organizations, Congress, universities, government and private citizens.
Although still very important, most believe that party platforms carry no real authority beyond providing a snapshot of the party’s thinking.
The first political convention to be televised was the Republican National Convention in June of 1940 in Philadelphia, when Wendell L. Willkie was nominated for president.
The most popular convention city is Chicago, which has hosted 25 national conventions. It was there in 1968, during the Democratic convention, that one of the most famous, or infamous, conventions took place due to the massive anti-war protests which were shown live on network television.
Georgia has hosted only one national convention, that being the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in 1988 where Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts was nominated.
Sites for the conventions are selected about three years prior to being held. The federal government grants $14.9 million to each of the two major parties for convention expenses. Campaign Finance Institute data suggests that both parties will spend a total of $220 million on their conventions this year — a staggering amount indeed.
It has been reported that this year the Republicans hosted 2,286 delegates, 2,125 alternates and 15,000 credentialed members of the media at their convention in Tampa. In order to secure the nomination, a Republican candidate must have 1,144 delegate votes.
Georgia sent 76 delegates to the Republican convention this year. The number of delegates per state is determined by population and whether that state voted for that respective party’s presidential nominee in the previous election. Because Georgia’s electoral votes were given to Senator John McCain in 2008, we were awarded extra delegates in Tampa.
Delegates are generally selected because of their work for their respective party. Most are chosen at district meetings with some being chosen at the state conventions.
The Democratic convention is usually larger because there are over 5,500 delegates selected. In order to secure the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party, a nominee must have 2,778 delegate votes.
Although they are able to serve on committees, the most important role of delegates at the conventions is to cast a vote for the nominee so that the party can formally nominate someone for President. This responsibility can be very important in years when the nominee is uncertain.
For instance, in 1976 during the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Kan., a bitter contest between President Gerald Ford and Governor Ronald Reagan ended with Ford winning the nomination with an 1,187 to 1,070 delegate count.
Although the nominees are generally foregone conclusions these days and conventions have evolved into “made for TV” events, they still are important for parties to express their political message and promote their candidates for President.
Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) Room 301-A, Atlanta, GA, 30334.
His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109. You can connect with him on Facebook at facebook.com/buddycarterga or follow him on Twitter @Buddy_Carter.