Commentary: No need for four-day political conventions

The Kansas City StarAugust 31, 2012 

— There was a great sigh of relief here when Isaac skirted the Florida coast, missing the Republican National Convention. There was, of course, concern Isaac would smack some other part of the gulf, but at least a truncated RNC is able to go forward.

The storm also proved what should now be obvious — there is no reason in the 21st century for national party conventions to last four days.

That isn’t to suggest, as some have, that conventions should be dropped as irrelevant. It is still important for like-minded party activists to gather, trade stories and motivate one another for races up and down the ballot. Conventions also are the only time the major party nominees get to speak to a large national audience alone, without filters or interference. That’s crucial.

And frankly it’s a pretty good party for folks who work in the trenches of politics throughout the year.

But the delegates can celebrate without the eyes of the nation watching. Instead, both parties should collapse the business of their nominating conventions from four days to two. Those two days should be a Saturday and Sunday, with the actual nominating business conducted on day one and the acceptance speeches on day two.

Then the parties could go to the major broadcast networks and say look: You and your affiliates collect hundreds of millions of dollars each year from political advertisers. In fact, political advertising almost certainly guarantees a profit for over-the-air stations, even in a social media, Internet-driven world.

In exchange for all that cash, we want broadcast coverage, in prime time, for a Saturday and Sunday evening in the summer once every four years.

That’s a deal the networks should take in a heartbeat.

If I ran the world, I’d return the conventions to July, when they used to take place, rather than late summer. The kids are back in school now, making it harder for younger adults to attend the conventions — and we should do more to interest younger voters in such events as the conventions. There is a lot of gray hair here, including my own.

And if convention-goers want to party, come to the host city early. Have your meetings on the Thursday and Friday leading up to the event, then broadcast your themes to the world that weekend.

The two-day convention would save millions of dollars, keep an important tradition intact, and could conceivably attract a larger viewing audience on a Sunday night as well.

It also would lessen the political parties’ exposure to mistakes and bad luck, such as a tropical storm rolling out of the Gulf of Mexico.

And it won’t stop the delegates’ fun. Trust a gray-haired reporter on that.

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