WASHINGTON — San Joaquin Valley politicos will be partying with a purpose at the upcoming presidential conventions.
They'll attend corporate receptions. They'll clink glasses with lobbyists, and swap cards with new allies. Candidates will be selected, yes, but for many the most enduring work of the next two weeks may occur off the convention floors.
"I'd like to build a network of Democratic friends," said Modesto-based attorney Betty Julian. "I'd like to meet different party leaders; I'd like to meet other people from other states."
Julian and one of her law firm's partners, Duane Nelson, are among the 441 California delegates selected for next week's Democratic convention in Denver. Like Fresno resident Mary Fierro and Mendota resident Miguel Arias, Julian and Nelson are attending as Hillary Clinton delegates.
Technically, that means they will lose when the convention formally selects Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. Pragmatically, they can still prevail in several different ways.
"I'd like to see the party come together," said Julian, who at the age of 31 is attending her first convention. "There have been some hard feelings."
Beyond party unity, conventions promise corporate and personal benefits. With an estimated 50,000 people showing up, roughly one-third of them journalists, the conventions become a combination circus, job fair and rolling political seminar.
"I am looking forward to attending as many caucuses as possible, especially those dealing with problems of rural and agricultural areas (and other issues)," said Visalia resident Daljit Singh, a retired Fresno State political scientist.
Several dozen Democrats will be attending from the San Joaquin Valley. Each Valley congressional district will be represented by three or four elected delegates. Individual House members are attending as superdelegates. Other elected officials, like Fresno City Councilwoman Cynthia Sterling, are also coming.
Some, like Julian and Singh, are first-timers. Others, like Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, are old hands. Costa knows what to expect, having attended conventions regularly since 1980.
"They are an opportunity to network with groups you work with, and meet with groups that you may not have the best relations with," Costa said.
In addition, at both the Democratic and Republican conventions, staffers from Valley congressional offices will be working backstage on behalf of their respective parties.
Party can be the operative word. The Democratic convention that formally starts Monday, and the Republican convention that starts Sept. 1 in St. Paul, Minn., are both serious social occasions. The non-partisan Sunlight Foundation has identified at the two conventions more than 400 parties, receptions and other events where work and fun intermingle.
The telecommunications giant AT&T, for instance, is hosting in whole or in part a dozen different receptions in Denver, including one for California delegates. The company is an equal opportunity partier. It will host half a dozen receptions at the Republican convention, according to invitations compiled by the Sunlight Foundation.
"I use it as a way to meet a lot of different people across the country," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, said of the myriad chances to convene. "It's really the one time when all of the Republicans in California get together in one place."
From their home base at the downtown Denver Sheraton Hotel, three and a half blocks from the city's convention center, California Democrats next week have a lot to choose from.
Emily's List, for one, is offering a Tuesday night "pre-reception," where for $5,000 participants can mingle with the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The feminist political organization's standard "gala reception" is cheaper at $50 a head, but it's also already sold out.
Planned Parenthood is sponsoring a "Sex, Politics and Cocktails Dance Party." The law-and-lobbying firm Hogan & Hartson -- whose clients include the California State Teachers Retirement System -- is holding several cocktail parties. The congressional Blue Dog Coalition, whose members include Costa and Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, is co-sponsoring a Sunday evening to-do at Denver's Mile High Stadium.
Political pros know the party drill: drink lightly, keep moving, and come prepared with business cards. Lampshades on the head are strongly discouraged.
"As a Hill staffer, it's an opportunity to pick up new skills, network and grow professionally," said Andrew House, Nunes' press secretary.
House is taking time off from his Capitol Hill work to handle press relations at the GOP convention. It's a popular busman's holiday for the politically attuned. In a similar vein, Fresno native Monica Carmean will be taking leave from Costa's D.C. office to volunteer in Obama's "vice presidential operations" center.