CNN television analyst John King took a break from live coverage from the floor of the Pepsi Arena in Denver to talk about the media effects of national party conventions.
People dismiss conventions as pageantry, but the party and candidate that gets the biggest polling bump tends to win. Is it an oversimplification to call them pageants?
It is an oversimplification. It’s obviously not like the old back-room wheeling and dealing, cigar-smoking days. But they are important, and this year I think they’re particularly important. In this hall there’s a bit of dysfunction within the Democratic family. About 40 percent of the people [delegates] on this floor voted for Sen. Clinton and a good deal of them don’t think she’s been treated with respect. ... And that makes Obama’s challenge a significant one.
Last time around Bush had the special stage on the final night, and now you have Barack Obama taking it over to Invesco Field for the final night. Is it overkill or is this just the next stage of maximizing the media value of conventions?
It’s not my job to make judgments but it is certainly an escalation of the drama. They want to show a huge event. They believe there is a new movement in American politics and they want to show it that way. The Republicans are trying to create this narrative of Obama as a celebrity, a rock star, and not a substantive politician. So it feeds into both narratives: The narrative the Obama want to create is that they are bringing new people and young people and others who left the process back into the process again, and Republicans will use it to say “this guy’s all talk and no substance.” So both parties will use that event to feed their narrative, and out in nine weeks we’ll find out who wins.
There are 15,000 credentialed media including unprecedented foreign press. Are you surprised by how much the rest of the world is paying attention to this election?
There’s enormous interest overseas. I’ve travelled a couple of times to overseas countries in the past year, including Iraq and some countries on the way back, interest in this election. ... Because I used to cover the White House I still talk to a lot of the diplomatic corps in Washington, and I still touch base with a lot of people on that beat. There’s an incredible interest in the election overseas, far more than I’ve seen in the past. It’s a hugely consequential election for a whole host of domestic issues, but also for a few, huge international questions -- whether that’s Iraq and Afghanistan, or U.S. relations with our allies in Europe.
We have two conventions, one featuring a candidate from the largest city in the Midwest at a convention in the Southwest, and the other featuring a candidate from the largest city in the Southwest at a convention in the Midwest. And these are the two swing regions. Does it matter where the conventions are held?
I think it helps. Is it decisive? Hard to say. But look, the electoral map is changing. That’s one of the things I play with on my [electronic] wall. ... The Mountain West is a huge battleground, and Democrats want to get regional press as well as national press.
That interactive thing you do on TV is pretty fascinating. How long did it take you to get comfortable with that technology?
I’m still learning every time because it’s an amazing piece of technology. …The first night I did it on television, I only practiced about eight minutes before I went on. It’s very user-friendly and very intuitive. We’ve put some new programs on it based on things I wanted, and Josh Braun, my producer, has done a great job with it. … It’s a great tool for explaining things that are very technical or involve a lot of statistics. I get stopped a lot and people ask me very specific questions about the campaign, and that tells me that the technology is making a difference.
Previous Party People Q&As:
Bob Springmeyer, candidate for governor of Utah
Bracken Hendricks, clean-energy evangelist
Karen Brown and Bonnie Tierney, Clinton and McCain supporters.
Don Beyer, former Democratic VA gubernatorial candidate
Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party Chair
David Cicilline, Mayor of Providence
Nancy Ruth White, Clinton Delegate
Nancy Keenan, President of NARAL