Upenn students report from the DNC

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">8.26.2008 - Denver, Colorad - A rally outside the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.</span></div>
August 29, 2008 9:17:41 AM PDT
Editor's note: The following is a contribution from a University of Pennsylvania student, attending the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. August 28 - By Thursday, most of the highest profile donors as well as many politicians exited Denver. This could be felt in various ways. This morning at the Brown's Palace (one of the classiest hotels in Denver and which had previously been flooded with politicians) was nearly empty. The bustling lobby was replaced with somber tea-drinkers. While walking the 16th Street Mall (which intersects with various hubs of the convention) many lunch venues did not have a line.

The one exception to this rule seems to be the delegates. The delegates appear to be soaking in every last minute of the convention. Who can necessarily blame them as most of their fun is on the expense account of the DNCC? This morning, the Pennsylvania State Delegation breakfast had an unusual lively spirit. Despite most other venues being emptier than in previous days, the banquet room was flooded with reporters and secret service agents as well as an unusually large delegation. Of course everyone was prepared for the big profile speaker - Joe Biden.

Senator Biden was eerily on time for a politician of such high stature. In a rare moment for a campaigning politician, Senator Biden was extremely candid. He spoke with nothing more than the aide of a notecard. He spoke on the importance of Pennsylvania as well as his love of Pennsylvania (mostly by pointing out his friendly relationships with the state's major Democratic politicians.) The crowd connected with his sentiments. After a standing ovation, it took Senator Biden nearly 45 minutes to vacate the premises. Senator Biden was patient and stood with a smile for pictures with all of his supporters. His energy at this stage of the campaign is admirable?we will have to see if it sustains the grueling work of 69 days of campaigning.

As I walked to my transportation after lunch, one of my peers commented that it felt as if we were walking against the current. This is because at 1:45 the supporters were out in full force and walking to Invesco to reserve their seat for Senator Obama's speech. That is dedication. With their funky hats and kitschy t-shirts, these supporters were walking nearly two miles to sit in a stadium in the beating sun for over six-hours. Given this level of dedication, it is surprising that my class was able to procure enough credentials for everyone to get into the stadium. Perhaps the capacity of the venue (75,000+) has discouraged some from making the journey and has also allowed those aside from political insiders and delegates to enter the venue (even with, arguably, the most high profile cast!)

I chose not to make the journey. My fatigue was beginning to set in and after the disappointing situation I encountered at the Pepsi Center last evening I could to foster the energy to wait in the - allegedly three-mile - line. I am sticking with my belief that the best seat in the house is on television!

As I prepare to see Senator Obama speak, my looming question is whether or not Senator McCain's vice-presidential choice will be "leaked" to the press or whether Senator McCain will wait until noon tomorrow. As the Democratic Convention is coming to a close (albeit an exceedingly grand close) I am beginning to shift gears and think in terms of comparison between each of the conventions. I will see you all in Saint Paul!

August 27 - As you might be able to discern from the late posting of this installment of my blog, I went to the Pepsi Center to witness firsthand the epicenter of the convention. After a day filled with begging and pleading with anyone who looked official enough to give us spare credentials, a group of students from my class made our way to the Pepsi Center. Perhaps we should have suspected the utter disorganization and herding that lay ahead of us from the roundabout way security had those credentialed guests enter the vicinity (once the center was in sight as being a block away it took us a solid 15 minutes to get to the security line!) I do have to give the security teams credit for making a very long and very wide line move rather rapidly (although in their haste I was able to bring my umbrella inside despite its being listed as one of the prohibited items!)

Once inside, and after several more credential checks, we were reminded of our professors' advice: be entrepreneurial. We interpreted this as trying our best to talk our way into seats that we were not credentialed for. Oh how we tried. After walking right into the Club Level of the center we walked around from suite to suite and quickly realized we were in the place to see and be seen. After sightings of Senator Clinton and Chelsea Clinton as well as Dennis Kucinich (and probably many others we simply did not recognize!) we decided it was time to try to find a seat. Unfortunately, while we had been naively walking around, the sections in the Club Level were entirely full. Despite our best efforts to talk our way into suites patrolled by friendly looking ushers, we were unsuccessful. Up we went. We went to the top level of the center hoping there would be seats available. By 5:00 Denver time, there was not a seat to be had in the nosebleed section (except for those behind the stage with absolutely no visibility.) Our "suite" talking finally paid off when we were able to enter a suite on the first floor. The visibility was limited and there were no seats available, but being out of the crowd was solace in itself.

Being so close to the action and seeing the delegates in all of their crazy clothing and their palpable passion was a phenomenal experience. The politicians must have felt like rockstars-playing to their biggest fans! With each major speaker, new signs were quickly distributed so that they would be in the camera shot. I could not help but wonder what poor interns had to staple the thousands of signs that were distributed. The atmosphere was electric and something the television cannot truly due justice.

While in the suite I was reminded of what a media event the convention truly is. Every major organization (and many minor ones as well) has their own boxes so that they can broadcast with the background of the convention floor. CNN-as they have not been shy about advertising-has a booth set-up in the middle of the floor. The press area is enormous. While watching President Clinton, a correspondent from The Daily Show was setting up to shoot a field piece (before the fire marshals quashed it!) Here I am, authoring a blog to give my angle on the proceedings. During our class discussion today our professor posed the question of the future of conventions. Jose Vargas, a reporter for The Washington Post on the technological aspect of the campaign (who has very interesting insights and I highly recommend checking out a few of his articles) did not have an answer.

Although I cannot answer where the future of conventions is headed, I am headed to bed! Once the excitement of the day is over, I quickly realize how utterly exhausted I am. In three days, I am more exhausted than I have been in months (probably since finals!) In addition, we have an extra early morning tomorrow because a high profile speaker (confirmed from a very reputable source to be Joe Biden) will be addressing the Pennsylvania Delegation Breakfast tomorrow (as if we did not already know how important Pennsylvania is in the 2008 election!)

August 26 - To start the day off, as my class was yawning and trying to underscore the exhaustion we were all feeling, we were walking into the Pennsylvania Delegation breakfast and Chris Matthews (yes, of Hardball!) was walking in behind us. Mr. Matthews, who happened to be very good friends with one of our professors, sat with us at the delegation breakfast. He was hoping to use our class as "cover" so that he could avoid being approached by the kinds of people who had six degrees of separation with him. Unfortunately, Senator Casey "blew his cover" so to speak by announcing his presence to the entire delegation. Needless to say, the delegates were beyond excited to have one of their favorite sons in their presence. My seat was placed within earshot of the conversations between Mr. Matthews and those coming up to express their connection/enjoyment of his program. Despite the overwhelming enthusiasm of many of the speakers this morning, I was transfixed on the exchanges between Mr. Matthews and his fans. Seeing his poise in dealing with his potential future constituents, I could not help but think he viewed this as preparation for his future senatorial campaign.

After the speakers (which included a stump speech from Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill) ABC's Jim Gardner interviewed my class. As a native Philadelphian, meeting the person who has delivered the news to me for nearly twenty years was quite an experience. I was astounded by his modesty and genuine interest in the youth perception of the convention. Between sitting with Christ Matthews and drawing a huge amount of attention from the lighting and cameras that followed Jim Gardner, I think most of the delegation was left scratching their heads wondering who exactly we were! When they found out we were here because of a course, they were both fascinated and asking us if they could enroll in the Annenberg School for the 2012 course!

Following breakfast, we proceeded to the Brown's Palace hotel in Downtown Denver. For those who have not been to Denver, this hotel is one of the nicest and is the place to see and be seen during the convention. While sitting with two of Senator Obama's pollsters and strategists to the Latino community, my eye kept wandering to the excitement in the lounge of the hotel. These two gentleman offered incredible insight into how polling affects the message output to the Latino community as well as the strategies for garnering the important Latino vote. Hearing how nuanced targeting this segment of the population is makes me have a much greater appreciation for all of the aspects a campaign has is concerned with. It also makes me wonder what the polling discovers about my demographic and how careful the word choice is for the Facebook ads that are targeted at me from this campaign.

While listening, I saw Omarosa (of Apprentice fame) fixing her hair and make-up in a nearby mirror. I think she felt my staring and she turned and made direct eye contact (oops!) Also, for any Gilmore Girls fans out there, there was a sighting of Danny Strong, the person who played Paris's boyfriend on the show. As short as he was portrayed on the show, he was shorter in person! I am still unsure as to why he was present? Finally, while listening to the pollsters, a beam of light hit the wall. Following this was Governor Romney on his way to speak at a luncheon for the Christian Science Monitor. After our session dispersed, I attempted to sneak into the luncheon to hear Governor Romney. However, as soon as I cracked the door open an official with a clipboard came out to see if I was credentialed (the world of credentialing reared its ugly head again!) This turned out to be for the best as while in the lobby area and outside of the hotel Sean Penn and Ashley Judd passed me. Needless to say, I will certainly be hanging around this hotel tomorrow!

Now, for the really great part of the day. I am sure you thought that I had already discussed it, but wait for this. Christ Matthews invited my class to the outdoor set of MSNBC to observe his show. Being with Mr. Matthews, we received the all-start treatment. We were escorted to the air-conditioned make-up trailer. Not only did we witness the transformation of the guests, but also we were able to have conversations with them and gain sights into different aspects of the convention. Once we were escorted to the stage, we saw the risk taken of having an outdoor set with accessibility to the public. While the front row audience members were all fans of the show and Obama supporters, there were protesters with bullhorns that made it all but impossible to hear the broadcast. I have tremendous respect for today's guests and Mr. Matthews for being able to remain focused on the task at hand with protesters yelling that, "9/11 was an inside job" and accusing Mr. Matthews of "entertaining rather than informing." The riot police were called to the scene and we were all instructed to go wash our eyes out if pepper spray was used. Fortunately, it was not!

Governor Romney was supposed to be a guest on the last segment of the show. However, due to the heavy traffic in and around the Pepsi Center, he was unable to leave. This meant two things. First, the interview would be conducted via satellite. Second, because of the time needed to set-up for the interview, there were a few extra minutes that required filling. As a result, Mr. Matthews interviewed our professor, former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies as well as our class (including me!) Between the lighting, the protesters and the excitement of being on television, I hope my remarks sounded somewhat intelligent?

Before we left the MSNBC complex we saw David Gregory as well as Keith Olbermann. Today really reminded me of how many events the convention includes. Before the primetime coverage even started, I had seen so much and was completely in the convention spirit! I look forward to hearing Senator Clinton's speech tonight, but I am more excited for what opportunities tomorrow holds!

DENVER, Co. - August 25, 2008 - - Upon arrival at the Denver Airport, the "aura" of the convention infected me. Secret service personnel were stationed at nearly every corner, I gaped at journalists and politicians from afar and the convention paraphernalia permeated the entire airport. It hit me. I was really here. During my airport transfer I became acquainted with two realities of this convention: the solid majority of people in the Denver area are here for the convention and have interesting stories to tell, and the sprawling nature of the city of Denver makes the convention venues not very convenient or accessible.

I would imagine that most people who have never attended a convention have very little knowledge of what actually happens during these four days. The coverage from the Pepsi Center does not allude to what happens during the day (prior to the 4pm speeches.) As a frame of reference, the listing of events other than those occurring in the Pepsi Center stands at 27-pages. There are hundreds of events every day (many occurring simultaneously) ranging from panels discussing specific issues to cocktail parties, book signings to concerts (Nancy Pelosi's bash includes the likes of James Taylor, Tony Bennett and John Legend!)

With this plethora of options, there are two ways in which the list becomes narrowed down: credentialing and distance. Unfortunately, credentialing for all of these events is different, so the amount of events one can enter is often narrowed simply by what credentials you can obtain. Credentials are exceedingly difficult to come by?organizations as prestigious as NBC are struggling to obtain proper credentials for their staff.

In addition to credentialing, the sheer distance between venues is a huge deterrent. Prior to arriving in Denver, I kept reading about what an accessible and walking city Denver was. I am not sure what the authors of these pieces had ever been to Denver. Denver is extremely sprawled out (our hotel, which is 30 minutes outside of the city center, is still considered Denver.) Much of the public transportation?which does not access all parts of the city?requires specific credentials to ride during this week. Taxis are difficult to come by, and even once called, take nearly an hour for arrival plus travel time in the gridlocked highways. The downtown area is where most of the day's activities happen. This area is fairly walkable, however, getting there is a challenge and most of the morning events are located well outside of the city center. In talking with people who attended the New York City or Boston Conventions, the accessibility is much poorer and somewhat surprising given how well those two conventions ran. I am hoping the proximity of events is much less spaced than in St. Paul!

Now for a brief recap of the day's events. I believe the theme of the day, which CNN described as "Unity" was best summarized by Mayor Nutter at the breakfast for the Pennsylvania Delegation. Mayor Nutter remarked, "You can love Senator Clinton and still support Senator Obama." In speeches from Governor Rendell, Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer and Mayor Nutter?all three of whom supported Senator Clinton throughout the primaries?the instruction to mobilize for Senator Obama came through loud and clear.

Easily the most dynamic speaker I saw was Democratic Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. Upon his introduction, Governor Rendell remarked upon his attire: jeans, a bolero and cowboy boots. Governor Schweitzer snapped back noting that he felt as though he was dressed up. Through his accent and "unique phraseology" (which included a few profanities!) he spoke engagingly about his own election in a very red state as well as the very close Montana senatorial race, which put a fellow democrat in office. Leaving the breakfast, I felt as though I had attended a giant pep rally for the Democratic Party. It is rare that one sees politicians speak see candidly in favor of their own party.

The rest of the day was spent floating between panels on the history of conventions, campaign ads as well as new media coverage of campaign. Truthfully, walking the streets and seeing the protesters, vendors (selling Obama watches with the tag line "it's time for a change") as well as the unique clothing of the delegates provides as much of an education as the panels. I look forward to observing and reporting on the convention activities that are not broadcast on primetime television.


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