Blogs > Cliopatria > Sam Roberts: Only Twice Has a Candidate Benefited from the Location of the Convention that Nominated Him

Jul 19, 2004 6:10 am

Sam Roberts: Only Twice Has a Candidate Benefited from the Location of the Convention that Nominated Him

Sam Roberts, in the NYT (July 18, 2004):

THE national political conventions haven't even begun and already some people are second-guessing. Did the Democrats make a mistake holding theirs in Boston, the liberal bastion of Michael S. Dukakis, the Kennedys, gay marriage and, of course, the only state carried by George S. McGovern? Did the Republicans err by choosing New York, identifying themselves indelibly with a war on terror that has proved somewhat less popular than expected?

With George W. Bush and John Kerry all but deadlocked in most national polls and the election still more than three months away, leaders of both parties can find some solace in history: The site of a national convention has virtually never affected the selection of the candidate, the choice of his running mate, the content of the platform or the outcome of the election.

Historians generally cite two exceptions, both in Chicago, where candidates benefited from a home state advantage.

In 1860, after Lincoln's supporters packed the Wigwam, the new convention hall, he won the Republican nomination on the third ballot.

In 1952, Gov. Adlai E. Stevenson's welcoming address to Democratic delegates was so warmly received that it encouraged the draft movement that led to his nomination, also on the third ballot.

Boston has never been the site of a national convention by either major party and New York has never played host to the Republicans. In the 19th century, Baltimore, and then Chicago, were favored for being the most accessible national convention sites, largely because they were important rail centers.

In 1924, Democrats convened in New York, home state of Alfred E. Smith. That wasn't enough to secure the nomination for Smith. The convention plodded on for an unprecedented 17 days and 103 ballots, which may have been one reason the Democrats did not to return to New York until 1976.

Antiwar turmoil at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, inside and outside the hall, haunted Hubert H. Humphrey's campaign. While other cities might have avoided the "police riot" that ensued in Chicago that week, tumultuous antiwar protesters might have been a presence regardless of where the convention was held.

William C. Binning, a political science professor at Youngstown State University, recalled that Republicans pursued their Southern strategy by holding five of their last nine conventions in the South.

In 1980, Republicans convened in the industrial Democratic city of Detroit, which symbolized the emerging Reagan Democrats. "It didn't alter the election," said Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, "but subtly helped him to be seen in a different way than had he been speaking in, say, Phoenix."...

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