Penn student reports from the RNC

St. Paul, Mn. - September 1, 2008 - When I boarded the airplane at 6am Saturday morning and headed from Denver to St. Paul (aside from being angry at the woman who checked me in for making me painstakingly unpack my suitcase to remove five pounds worth of clothing!) I did not know what to expect. For a two-hour flight, the plane was extremely large—over forty rows—and extremely crowded. It felt as though most people were those who had attended the convention in Denver and were now on to St. Paul. Also, given the amount of camera equipment on board, it seemed as though most of these people were media people.

Immediately upon arrival, it was clear that St. Paul was not going to be anything like Denver. The Starbucks that had lined the Denver Airport were replaced with the local Caribou Coffee (which has since shown up almost everywhere we have travelled in the twin city area.) The Denver Airport, which was so large it required tram transportation between terminals, was replaced with the homely feeling Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport where everything was accessible with escalators! When we went into downtown St. Paul on Saturday evening, the town was literally deserted. There were three restaurants we found that were open and it took our party of twelve well over an hour for our food to come out. The sprawl of the convention—as events are taking place in both Minneapolis and St. Paul—is worse than Denver. Walking from panel to panel is not an option, but cab transportation has not been as difficult to find as in Denver.

Needless to say, my first impressions led me to ask the question, "Why would any national party choose to have their convention here?" Yes, the area is home to the Mall of America (in reality, it is just a mall on steroids!) but what other features drew the GOP to choose this city?

Today, after we attended two panels at the Humphrey Institute (the Republican equivalent of the NDI in that they are running forums all day every day of the convention with some great headliners!) we went to have our daily class meeting at the University Club. First of all, I have to mention that this University Club is absolutely stunning and is clearly the place to see and be seen this week. As we arrived for our class meeting, we read the event list for the day and discerned that Mitt Romney was speaking at a lunch forum on the terrace. I am looking forward to what other notables make an appearance this week! In a roundabout fashion, I am getting to the fact that one of our guest speakers was on the selection committee for the 2008 Republican National Convention. He was discussing that the city chosen has to be equipped to handle an influx of 50,000 visitors. This narrows the choices down to between six and ten cities. In addition, the city has to place a bid for the convention that is worthwhile to the party (this is why New Orleans was unable to make a play for a convention—which has turned out to be a blessing.) these two criteria explain why cities like New York and Chicago are so frequently chosen as convention sites. With the key of the election for both parties being connecting with blue-collar Midwestern voters, Denver and St. Paul seem to fit the agendas of the respective parties, even if they are not the most logistically sound cities.

The differences between the cities of Denver and St. Paul are noticeable, but the difference in the handling of the conventions is obvious. With Hurricane Gustav, the RNC was much less attended than last Monday's festivities as the DNC. However, from the quality of the credentials (Dems used paper, GOP uses plastic) to the number of security lines open tot eh seating procedures, the RNC convention seems to be immensely more organized. I had been told b Democrats that Republicans really knew how to run a convention. So far, it seems to be absolutely true. Assuming weather does not impede the rest of the week, I am hoping to see whether this holds true under similar crowds.

Aside from the organization, the RNC convention hall is much less glamorous than the DNC. In discussing this with other convention-goers, the word seems to be that this came directly from McCain. He did not want a glitzy convention—he is not a glitzy candidate. He wanted something simple that signified the GOP (accomplished by an animated waving flag in the background of the podium.)

Other differences might not seem as obvious to the untrained eye. For instance, the prime location CNN and MSNBC enjoyed during the DNC ahs been given to Fox News while the previous two networks are given boxes with an obstructed view of the floor. Also, delegates from three separate delegations were wearing matching outfits. The unity at the RNC is palpable where as Hilary and Barack seemed to still be fighting it out (somewhat) at the DNC. Finally, the police presence at this convention is not only more overt but also more active. A member of my class was almost arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A group of protesters was about to be arrested and she was trying to find her way and was confused as an anarchist. I suppose the increased security presence is to be expected especially since the sitting president was scheduled to make an appearance. Some postulate that the reason for choosing St. Paul was for the relative ease with which it could be secured.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that Denver is no St. Paul and the DNC is not the RNC. Whether the Republican Convention ends up running normally the rest of the week will allow for stronger comparisons to be made. For now, I am just very happy New Orleans did not win the bid for the 2008 Republican National Convention!

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