The virtual Democratic National Convention that kicks off tonight won’t just be missing the applause and crowds that viewers are used to seeing at home. It’ll be without the unparalleled quadrennial opportunity to build relationships among political activists from across the country.
The real action for those attending wasn’t on the convention floor, but in the parties, side meetings, casual encounters and skybox celebrations that literally go from dawn-to-dawn alongside the speeches and the nominations that make the headlines. For the delegates, journalists, office seekers and sponsors, convention days were always long on networking and short on sleep. Who wants to rest with endless opportunities to make such valuable connections in a short few days?
As someone who has been attending political conventions since 1996, for decades as a journalist and in the last cycle as a speech coach, I’ve built countless lasting relationships while socializing on the sidelines. Some of those I met as a 20-year-old cub reporter at my first convention embedded with the Michigan delegation in a hotel outside San Diego were among my best sources throughout my career. They were the local politicians and delegates I could call on nearly two decades later when I was a White House reporter seeking the country’s real political pulse instead of presidential spin.
The truth is there wasn’t much in the way of real news that happened at these gatherings. I pre-wrote most of my articles before ever touching down in the convention city with the broad themes I knew to expect – then just filling in a few quotes and color from the ground. I wanted to minimize the time I was stuck in front of my computer filing an article for the day and maximize my time making new friends.
The other purpose of the convention is firing up the grassroots attendees to aggressively sell the ticket in the final push – another lost opportunity when the ground game can win or lose elections.
But with so many Americans still stuck at home, marquee speeches could still see big broadcast numbers.