Compiled by B.C. Manion
Susan A. MacManus, a professor at the University of South Florida (USF), was at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Charlotte, N.C. sharing her political insights as an analyst for WFLA News Channel 8.
The political expert, who grew up the Lutz/Land O’ Lakes area, also shared her observations with The Laker/Lutz News, which we share with our readers in a Q & A format.
Q. What were the key differences between the Republican National Convention (RNC), which was in Tampa, and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte?
A. The Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. was much larger than the Republican National Convention in Tampa — 5,556 vs. 2,286. This size differential is nothing new. Democrats have had a larger convention for quite some time.
Q. What were some of the logical differences?
Florida’s delegates to the DNC had great hotel digs within walking distance (2.5 blocks) of the Times Warner Arena. In contrast, Florida’s delegates were housed at the Innisbrook Resort — an hour or so away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum. (Even so, Florida’s GOP delegates didn’t complain about it as much as the media called attention to their “far away” location.)
Q. Was there anything that particularly pleased you, personally?
A. One of the key differences for me was being able to mingle with the Florida delegates at the early morning breakfasts. In Tampa, the Florida GOP delegates stayed an hour away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Because I was broadcasting throughout the day for WFLA-TV, I was unable to attend the Republicans’ morning breakfast meetings, although I still was able to go onto the floor to talk to our state’s delegates. In Charlotte, I was broadcasting in the evenings, which allowed me to attend the Florida delegation breakfasts and to conduct more interviews with the delegates and party officials. There were 300 Florida delegates to the DNC, compared to 50 to the RNC. Florida originally had 99 delegates but lost half due to holding their presidential primary ahead of schedule.
Q. Was there anything that stood out as being significantly different than other national conventions?
A. In my 20 years of covering national party conventions, I have never seen a governor’s race get more attention among Florida delegates than a major U.S. Senate race. But that’s what happened at the DNC. Former Republican, now no party affiliation, Governor Charlie Crist was given a speaking role at the DNC on Thursday evening, the last night of the convention. Consequently, Florida Democrats spent the week debating whether Crist would formally announce that he had become a Democrat in order to run for governor again in 2014, but this time as a Democrat. The idea did not sit well with a number of delegates and guests, some of which have ideas themselves about running for the Democratic nomination in 2012, such as Alex Sink, Rod Smith, Buddy Dyer and Nan Rich. Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Connie Mack Jr. got far less attention. Yet, Florida’s U.S. Senate race has been rated one of the most important races in the country and projected to be one of the most expensive.
Q. Which speakers garnered the biggest buzz at the convention?
A. Democrats rated Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton as the best speakers. It is rare that a sitting U.S. president’s acceptance speech is trumped by speeches from others. Yet that is what happened at the DNC. Michelle Obama’s address to the delegates the first evening of the convention drew rave reviews, as did former President Bill Clinton’s nominating speech. Many analysts agreed that speeches by the first lady and the former president more clearly laid out reasons for President Obama’s re-election than did his own, although of course, his speech drew delegates to their feet as well.
Q. Did the lack of the traditional balloon drop at the end of the convention affect the crowd’s enthusiasm?
A. Forecasts of rain prompted Democratic officials to cancel having Obama’s acceptance speech in Charlotte’s Bank of America stadium and keeping it in Time Warner Arena. Consequently, confetti, not balloons, rained down on the president, vice president and their families as the convention drew to an end. It didn’t dampen the enthusiasm within the arena one bit!
Q. How did the security compare in the two convention cities?
A. A noticeable difference between Tampa and Charlotte was the larger presence of security officers, barriers and checkpoints in Tampa. In speaking with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a delegate to the DNC in Charlotte, about the difference, he mentioned that Tampa’s tighter security stemmed, at least in part, to the waterways surrounding the Tampa site. It was fun to watch Mayor Buckhorn walk down a Charlotte street and chit-chat with law enforcement officers, many on bicycles. Needless to say, he was much more relaxed than during the RNC in his hometown but proud of the fact that neither Tampa nor Charlotte had any violence during their time in the national spotlight.
Q. Now that the conventions are done, what’s next?
A. Now the delegates and their respective political parties will focus on registering more voters and making sure their supporters actually vote. Simply put, it is “Get-Out-The-Vote” time. One of the major roles of conventions is to energize delegates to go back home and do the grassroots-level campaigning that makes the difference in who wins. Florida will be an important focus for the candidates. For months on end, virtually every poll in Florida has shown that our state is a tie. Because it is the largest competitive, or swing, state and because each party sees Florida as the key to winning the White House, the presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses will continue to campaign in Florida. You can expect that almost every week between now and Nov. 6, at least one of them will be in Florida. The primary spot they will visit? The Interstate-4 corridor, of course.