I’ve been to 22 Democratic and Republican National Conventions in one way, shape or form (see my reflections in this August 25 Wall Street Journal piece) and I’ve been on the floor in 17 of them. So naturally on arriving in Charlotte, I wanted to see the floor of the 18th. So I went over to the Times-Warner Center (the Charlotte Convention Center, like the Tampa Convention Center, houses the press; the convention in each case is in a basketball/hockey arena). And I have one word to report to you. Tiny! Bill Plante of CBS News, who started attending conventions in 1968, when he lugged baggage for Mike Wallace at the Republicans’ convention in Miami Beach, agreed with me that it was the tiniest convention floor he’s ever seen.
In previous conventions held in such structures, including Tampa, the podium has been placed in the center of the long side of the arena. Here that appears to have been impossible, because there’s no space for a corridor through the spectator seats. So it was placed in the center of one of the short sides of the arena. Opposite and facing it are giant TV camera enclosures looming high above the floor. They take up almost half the space on the floor. There is room for only what looked like 200 to 300 seats between the camera platform and the podium.
The delegates are all seated in the spectator seats, behind a railing and rising almost halfway up the arena. And rising pretty far. In the back, far above the floor, with a view of the podium partially obstructed by the camera platform, are the delegations from Arkansas and New York. When Bill Clinton speaks Wednesday night he’s going to have a hard time seeing delegates from the state where he was governor for 12 years or the state where he lives now. Next to New York, just as high up, is Tennessee. That serves the state right for not voting for Al Gore in 2000; its 11 electoral votes would have made him president and we wouldn’t have been bothered by a Florida recount.
If the convention site had been picked on the basis of the contours of the hall, it would not have been held in Charlotte, Chuck Todd of NBC News told me. Charlotte was chosen because David Plouffe thought it would help his boss carry North Carolina. The delegates and the press will have to make the best of it.
Two final notes. One: the videoscreen directly above the podium is the largest I’ve ever seen at a convention. The technicians were testing it, and the images struck me as looking like something out of 1984. Two: it’s been raining off and on today, with some really heavy rain coming down for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. weather.com puts the chance of rain on Thursday, when Barack Obama is scheduled to give his acceptance speech in an open stadium, at 40%. The fallback venue—which I’m guessing the Democrats are extremely likely to choose—is the Time-Warner Center. Both parties took a real chance on the weather this year. Republicans scheduled their convention within a few miles of the Gulf of Mexico in hurricane season, and had to call the first day off. Democrats scheduled a stadium speech in the South where it rains a lot. Franklin Roosevelt spoke in a stadium in Philadelphia in 1936, taking the same risk, but the two more recent stadium speeches—John Kennedy’s in Los Angeles in 1960 and Obama’s in Denver in 2008—were in cities where it seldom rains in the summer.