DENVER—Am I getting bigger or are the national conventions getting smaller? As I usually do, I paid a visit to the convention hall, the Pepsi Center, before the opening of the convention, mainly to get a look at the layout on the floor, to figure out where the back passages and stairs are, to see where the U.S. News seats are in the press gallery, and where the Fox News broadcast booth is.
My first impression, as I walked into the press gallery was: small hall. This is the eleventh Democratic National Convention I will have attended, and my recollections of the different halls are tending to merge, but still I was struck by how small the hall is. As you would expect, the Illinois and Delaware delegations have front center aisle seats. But half the delegations are not on the floor but on the spectator seats which rise sharply from the floor. I can remember at the 1992 Democratic National Convention climbing up the stairs to the Pennsylvania delegation with Bob Novak, among others, to interview Governor Bob Casey, who was not allowed to speak before the convention, apparently because of his strong opposition to abortion. This time the California delegation, most of whose delegates were elected to support Hillary Clinton, stretches far up toward the rafters. I suggested to longtime state Democratic party director Bob Mulholland that he might want to have some pills for altitude sickness.
My impression that the hall is small was confirmed by others. Columnist Cal Thomas felt the same way and Bob Beckel, co-author with him of the admirable Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America, said that the hall was about the same size as the Moscone Center where Walter Mondale, whose campaign Bob managed, was nominated in 1984. Thinking back to my first convention, the hall at the 1968 Democratic National Convention (in which I had seats in the gallery) seems about three times as large. Rick Kaplan of CBS News, who was writing speeches for Eugene McCarthy on the floor of the 1968 convention, agreed.
The Pepsi Center has almost no gallery seats; there seem to be skyboxes for big contributors, who will probably pay as little attention to what's happening on the floor as (in my experience, anyway) rich people in skyboxes pay to the games they're attending. The people who put together the convention presumably expected that the winning candidate would have swept the primaries and therefore would have chosen the large majority of the delegates. But it didn't work out that way. About 45 percent of the delegates were chosen by Hillary Clinton's campaign. Anecdotal evidence that I've picked up suggest that there are lot of Clinton delegates that are not reconciled to Barack Obama's nomination. That's one reason, I suggested to Joe Trippi (whom I first met when he was running Iowa for Mondale in 1983-84) and Jim Margolis (who has been the media producer for several Democratic presidential candidates), that the Obama campaign relocated his acceptance speech to the 72,000-seat Invesco Field. They didn't want to risk a lukewarm reception from nearly half the crowd in the Pepsi Center (it's hard to pack the galleries when there aren't any galleries). Trippi didn't disagree. Margolis, who is working on arrangements for the Obama campaign, said he was sure everything would go smoothly in the Pepsi Center. He may be right. We'll see.
As I was leaving the hall, music started beaming out of the sound system, loud enough that it was hard to converse on the floor. The first song was "Celebrate," a theme in the 1984 Mondale convention. The second was "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," which was the Clintons' theme song in 1992. I have a feeling we won't be hearing either in the convention's prime time sessions. They might play the latter song for the Clintons—but for the fact that it raises the question of whether Hillary is thinking about 2012 even as she supports Obama this year.
On the Invesco Stadium speech, weather.com's forecast for August 28 is "mostly sunny," with a 10 percent chance of precipitation. I'm told that the TV networks have been told that no umbrellas will be allowed into the stadium (just as umbrellas were confiscated in the 2004 Republican and Democratic National Conventions) and that if there's a thunderstorm the proceedings will be put on hold until the rain stops. A little nerve-wracking....