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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

A Love Affair With Lanyards: Inside the |Republican and Democratic Conventions

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — What Democrats and Republicans lack in ideological common ground they make up for in bitter distrust among their internal factions, an intense love-hate relationship with the press and a prolific propensity for dishing out lanyards.

The conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia spun two tales with different plots but similar endings. The frightening rhetoric of the Republican National Convention drummed up support for national security measures, the Second Amendment, law enforcement, and a fear of open borders while the Democratic National Convention paraded out recording artists like Paul Simon, Lenny Kravitz and Alicia Keys to swoon voters on the party's platform of workers' rights, climate change, gun control and gender and racial equality.

Both conventions were press friendly, though in ways as different as their discourse.

In Cleveland, the RNC was split between the Cleveland Convention Center and the Quicken Loans Arena, where Republican delegates, the vast majority of which were white men and women, gathered in the middle of the large arena floor.

The press risers flanked the stage, draped in blue cloth. Seats were allocated by the GOP, the party of free enterprise, to credentialed members of the press for a fee of $150 per seat.

Internet connectivity was shaky if an organization did not pay a handsome fee for a special AT&T Wi-Fi connection.

The public Wi-Fi bandwidth dropped often, running lower than the crowd's opinion of opponent Hillary Clinton, so reporters filing stories synced up smart phones as make-shift mobile hot spots and found other ways to meet their deadlines.

But the delegates below were ripe for the picking.

Reporters could easily swap out their press pass for a floor pass, and wander the floor for an hour collecting interviews and pictures.

And the delegates were happy to talk, despite a great many GOP speakers inserting barbs toward the biased mainstream media into their speeches. Many gave the press their cards and asked where they could read their stories.

At the convention center, daily press briefings were offered, but the building was only occupied by press partitioned off in their work spaces draped with black curtains. The party's convention app was not helpful past providing its roster of speakers.

"I've been to three conventions, and this by far has been the worst one as far as telling us about events and what to do," Tennessee delegate and Trump supporter Rebecca Ann Burke told Courthouse News outside of Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Burke was out on the town looking for something to do on a hot afternoon.

The main story in Cleveland, aside from Trump becoming the party's nominee, was Sen. Ted Cruz's refusal to endorse Trump. Convention goers stood, booed and heckled the Texas senator, and soon afterward those same delegates were eager to flag down press and give them their own glowing endorsement of Trump.

In Philadelphia, the Democratic National Convention kicked off with an undercurrent of bitterness that not only rivaled the anti-Trump faction of the Republican Party, but flat out lapped it in its contempt for party's establishment.


The contingency of Bernie Sanders supporters at the convention made their presence known right off the bat, booing and jeering at every mention of Hillary Clinton's name during the first day. Like Trump's supporters in Cleveland, they were also eager to talk to the press, though somewhat more difficult to access at first.

Unlike the RNC, the Pennsylvania Convention Center was not only used for press work stations, but also as a meeting place for delegates and a venue for rallies. Delegates walked the two-building center in Center City eager to talk to the press, many dressed from head to toe in the campaign gear of their candidate.

But the convention itself was in south Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center, and bussing the delegates and media from the convention center down the narrow one-way streets of the city to the arena proved a chaotic task.

Once in the arena, space was far more valuable a commodity than it was in Cleveland. The press stand was half the size in Philadelphia, rising up along one side of the stage overlooking the floor.

Space was limited, so Courthouse News was only allocated one seat, but the rows were robust enough to fit twice as many reporters as there were seats. And the so-called party of entitlement didn't charge a cent for them.

The Internet connection was much stronger at the DNC. Hardwire Ethernet cables poked through holes in the press stand, but they weren't needed because the public Wi-Fi offered in the arena was powerful and only glitched slightly during high profile moments like Michelle Obama's speech on opening night.

The challenge for reporters in the arena was getting comments from delegates.

The floor was tiny in comparison to the RNC's vast floor that held a good chunk of state delegations, and security was heavy handed in keeping people huddled together in aisles and open spaces taking pictures of celebrities to keep moving in a big current of people.

On the third night, headlined by President Barrack Obama, security shut off the center walkway directly across from the stage altogether. To access the other side of the floor, people had to shuffle up the narrow stairs and take the aisle above the first riser of seats.

At the RNC, the floor held seven state delegations, the rest spread out up the arena's bowl seating and mezzanine level across from the stage. But the floor area was open enough to allow mixing and schmoozing without claustrophobia.

The participation of headlining pop artists didn't help the DNC's overcrowding. Delegates and press scrambled to get closer when the likes of Alicia Keyes and Paul Simon took the stage.

On the third night, members of the press scrambled to grab floor passes in the minutes before Lenny Kravitz's planned performance, but ended up waiting in the pot of people soup on the floor while more than a dozen stagehands rolled out a mobile band set up for Kravitz's five minute performance of "Let Love Rule."

In Cleveland, the Republican Party didn't feature onstage performances, but the house band, led by G.E. Smith, of Saturday Night Live fame, played during television breaks, and was fronted by country music star Jason Aldean one night. But the glitz and variety show aesthetic prominent at the DNC wasn't there.

What the RNC did have was brevity, something both the press and convention goers appreciated. DNC sessions rolled out like a eight hour sagas where seemingly every party officials and celebrities of every level got five minutes to address the crowd punctuated by comedic vignettes of Trump media blunders.

By contrast, the RNC speeches kicked off at 8 p.m. and wrapped up well before midnight, for the delegate with a sensible bedtime in mind.

The host cities themselves personified the parties that took them over for the week.

Cleveland officials scrambled in the weeks leading up to the RNC, remodeling its public square and spit shining every lamp post in an effort to clean up its wrap for being a depressed little city on a great lake.

Delegates and media attended functions at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the city's science center. The city was well-stocked with restaurants for delegates, but its famous reality television star presidential nominee had limited choices; celebrity chef and Cleveland native Michael Symon publically banned the Donald from his restaurants, and shut down Lola, his well-known restaurant located right outside of the Q, for the week.

Philadelphia laid bare its scars for delegates and media, who were unable to escape the City of Brotherly Love without at least one cab ride down a pot-holed under-construction South Philly street.

But convention goers were treated to star studded affairs in and around the city known just as much for its tough, north east rust belt attitude as it is for being the origin of American democracy.

Many city bars and restaurants extended their hours to 4 a.m. to accommodate starved delegates and media escaping marathon convention sessions.

Both conventions were prolific and generous in one respect: handing out credential lanyards. Every function attended by media was staffed with folks sitting behind fold out tables holding caches of lanyards.The only difference was the party logos emblazoned on the tangled mess.

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