Colorado Democrats heading to Charlotte for the 2012 Democratic National Convention are finalizing hotel arrangements, raising money to help less well-off delegates and swapping convention stories just four years after the spotlight was on Denver.
It’s a markedly different DNC this year than the 2008 edition, when organizers were grappling with fresh wounds from a bruising primary fight between then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. This year, as Obama prepares to wage a tough battle for reelection, the DNC will be less about patching things up and more about firing things up for the two-month sprint to the November election.
“My job is to come back here and learn how to make things work for Obama here,” said Lew Gaiter, Jr., one of 94 DNC delegates from Colorado, during a recent fundraiser for the delegation at the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Denver.
Starting on Labor Day — with plenty of activities scheduled for the weekend before the DNC gets officially under way — the national convention will be an opportunity for Democrats to share strategies and boost the ticket as the nation watches.
“We want to bring back a lot of knowledge and experience — along with our schwag,” said DNC delegate Ed Hall, who urged first-time delegates to pack some empty suitcases to carry home all the goodies available to delegates.
Republicans hold their convention in Tampa the week before the Democrats meet — traditionally, the party that sits in the White House goes last — and are sending 36 delegates and 33 alternates.
Colorado’s DNC delegation was mostly designated in April at congressional district and the state conventions, but also counts 14 so-called Super Delegates, who get a ticket to Charlotte because of the positions they hold. These include the state’s Democratic National Committee members, Democratic members of Congress, Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Gov. Roy Romer, who gets a slot because he is also a former DNC chairman.
Denver DNC delegates are holding a series of informal, monthly fundraisers, including a jazz outing and a Rockies game later this summer, to help raise cash to pay for flights and hotel rooms in Charlotte.
Once in Charlotte, DNC delegates can expect to eat for free at regular delegation breakfasts and an array of nightly social hours, so frugal delegates willing to bunk up and book economy flights can get by spending in the neighborhood of $600, said Colorado Democratic Party spokesman Matt Inzeo.
The Colorado delegation won’t have to spend much getting around in Charlotte, either, Inzeo noted,
since the group will be staying within walking distance of all the convention activities. The delegation landed a coveted spot at Marriott’s Residence Inn Charlotte Uptown, just a stone’s throw from Bank of America Stadium, where Obama will be delivering his acceptance speech on the closing night of the convention.
“We were one of the first states in the country to lock down our delegation because of early state convention,” Inzeo said, so state party leaders were able to put dibs on the prime location this spring while other states were still selecting delegates. He added that Colorado’s role as a crucial swing state in the presidential election probably didn’t hurt.
Inzeo said that finding room for everyone in the hotel — it won’t be entirely taken over by the state’s delegation, as a handful of long-term tenants aren’t giving up their rooms that week — is akin to a painstaking game of Tetris, fitting together roommate combinations while preserving enough beds for spouses, a media contingent and a few VIPs, such as Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who aren’t delegates but who nonetheless will have prominent roles with the delegation.
“We’re spending the next couple weeks figuring out how creative we can be, how cozy our delegates are willing to be so can maximize hotel allotment,” he chuckled.
Not that delegates will be spending much time in their hotel rooms, advises a list of convention tips making the rounds among DNC delegates.
According to Texas blog the Burnt Orange Report, delegates should plan on piling as many to a room as physically possible, because it’ll just be a place to crash a few hours each night and store accumulated memorabilia.
The blog also advises, “Dress nice, but comfortably. It’s a basketball arena type situation, not a church. There are so many people, nobody is ever going to see your tennis shoes.”
The No. 1 rule, however, which applies equally to delegates who don’t hail from Texas, concerns headware and sightlines:
“NO BIG HATS. Don’t even think of wearing that big foam rubber Texas hat. You block the view of your fellow delegates seeing Obama and you’ll be ostracized for life.”
State Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, who led Colorado’s Clinton delegation four years ago, had some advice for DNC delegates at the Blue Bonnet gathering, where he was the featured speaker.
He noted that this year’s delegates will almost certainly “have a much more enjoyable convention experience than I had,” as he was mostly kept busy negotiating a suitable conclusion to the Clinton bid.
Once at the convention, Kagan said, he worked to make sure “that her name was on the ballot, that the nomination election was contested, that it was not done by acclamation, that she would have a central role at the convention and therefore a central role in the administration that followed. We wanted to do it in a way that did not destroy or damage the party, and that would provide a unified front going forward.”
Since Obama’s nomination is uncontested this year, Kagan told delegates, their main task will be public relations.
“Make sure that we present, as Democrats, a strong, united, intelligent, constructive front, so that people can see, when they talk to you — and the media will be talking to you — so that people can see, wow, these Democrats are really serious, and they are going to get behind their candidate in a big way.”
The Colorado delegation will be in the thick of things on Labor Day. The DNC announced this week that something called CarolinaFest 2012, a kick-off celebration that had been set at Charlotte Motor Speedway, will instead be held in the Uptown neighborhood. The “free, non-partisan community celebration of the South” will be open to tourists, Carolinians and DNC delegates, and is meant to showcase the region with “interactive expositions, family oriented activities, live music [and] speakers,” according to Dan Murrey, executive director of the Charlotte in 2012 Convention Host Committee.
The announcement came a day after reports that the DNC was considering cancelling the event entirely because of fundraising shortfalls. Bloomberg reported on Monday that a ban on corporate contributions had left convention planners some $27 million short of its $36 million fundraising goal, though Murrey said Tuesday that the Labor Day celebration’s move had to do with “logistics, not cost.”
With the ban on corporate money in place, DNC organizers face a double bind, Bloomberg noted. Without the corporate donations — which accounted for roughly $33 million of the funds raised for the 2008 DNC in Denver — Democrats had hoped that labor organizations would make up the difference, but unions are so far balking because there aren’t any unionized hotels in Charlotte and North Carolina is a right-to-work state.
The usual convention business inside the Time Warner Cable Arena convention hall will be slimmed down to just two days this year, organizers an-nounced in January, so that Obama can accept the nomination at the 74,000-seat Bank of America Stadium on Thursday of convention week. It echoes a similar stadium move in Denver, where Obama spoke at Invesco Field at Mile High, since renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High.