Convention Highlights Its History

Editor’s note: Robert Rupp, a political historian at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, W.Va., is providing a daily journal of analysis and happenings from the Democratic National Convention.

DENVER – A discussion Monday morning with West Virginia delegate Stephen Skinner highlighted the importance of enthusiasm in campaign politics. The Eastern Panhandle lawyer had switched his support to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama before the primary election on the basis of Obama’s organizational effort and the high level of enthusiasm he generated among new voters.

Skinner told a common tale that was repeated throughout the state earlier this year: When Jefferson County representatives met in a caucus to select delegates to the state convention, Skinner was surprised at the new voters, many of whom were young and supported Obama.

The 2008 effort by Obama resembles the 1972 enthusiasm for George McGovern, but in that case the excitement of the youth vote did not translate into large turnout in the election.

Ironically, McGovern’s campaign marked the entry into Democratic politics by the Clintons, who ran his Texas campaign.

Much of Monday’s focus was on Hillary Clinton, as the day started with news that only 47 percent of her supporters strongly back Obama. Such attention on Clinton brings the focus around to West Virginia – a state she swept in the 2008 primary.

Unity, however, is the theme from Mountain State delegates at the 2008 convention. State Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey said it was a great day to be a Democrat at West Virginia’s breakfast meeting.

Monday’s meeting was devoted to logistics, but it is expected that remaining breakfasts will follow tradition and have a guest speaker.

The breakfast also saw continued fallout from Sunday’s concert in Denver sponsored by Dominion Gas. The concert at Red Rocks National Park featured Sugarland and the Dave Matthews Band. The environmental theme and some of the singers’ comments about carbon-based energy did not sit well with some delegates.

Monday afternoon marked the first time delegates saw the convention center, which is home to Denver’s basketball and hockey teams.

Upon entrance one is overwhelmed by the multi-media screen that stretches across the stage and rises up to and occupies part of the center’s roof.

Many delegations are situated in the stands, not on the ground floor. This includes West Virginia, which is off on the left side, above the Utah delegation and beside the South Dakota gathering. Once again the delegation is next to the floor press box so the delegates can see numerous media celebrities as well as have a good view of the stage from the side.

One of the more interesting moments Monday came during a video tribute of Sen. Ted Kennedy. Kennedy’s niece, Caroline Kennedy, introduced the Massachusetts senator to a standing ovation.

In 1908 at the last Democratic convention in Denver, the party honored another icon, William Jennings Bryan, with the presidential nomination on the first ballot. Bryan rode to fame on a string of stirring but unsuccessful presidential campaigns, but along the way he became a party icon.

Now in 2008 delegates honored the “Liberal Lion” of the Senate – Ted Kennedy, who has served since 1962. Kennedy has carved out a place in American political history without winning the presidency – a prize he sought and lost.

In a day dominated by speculation about Hillary Clinton’s future ambitions and present enthusiasm, Kennedy shows that becoming president is not the only way to cement a successful legacy in American politics.