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July 08, 2014 5:03 PM Big Convention Hiatus in 2016?

By Ed Kilgore

Now that the GOP has decided to hold its convention in Cleveland (the “city of light, city of magic,” according to the iconic sardonic Randy Newman song), we’ll soon find out if the GOP is going to implement its chairman’s recommendation for a very early convention by recent standards, in June.

If they do, and Democrats follow the opposite approach, we could have a very unusual hiatus between the two party conventions. Joshua Green has more at Bloomberg Businessweek:

The rationale for an early convention is that it would allow the Republican nominee earlier access to general election campaign money. In 2012, Mitt Romney couldn’t access those funds until after the party’s late-August convention, and Republicans such as Priebus believe this helped cost Romney the election.
Barack Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe, pointedly disagrees. Although it’s hardly surprising that a Democrat would criticize a Republican Party decision, Plouffe’s rationale is worth considering. “Strategically, I don’t understand it,” Plouffe says. “As a party, you have two big weapons in a presidential race: the selection of the vice president and the convention. To potentially have those over by July 4th makes no sense.” Republicans, he argues, will have exhausted their two shots at a big national audience many months before the election….
So when should Democrats hold their 2016 convention? “The first week of September,” says Plouffe. “People are back from summer vacation. It’s when you have the highest TV ratings. More people will be engaged—not just the electorate but volunteers and campaign staffers, too.”

So if Republicans hold their convention in June and Democrats in September, we’d have the longest gap between the two major party gatherings since 1864, when Republicans (actually, the Union Party, as the GOP called itself in this Civil War election, reflecting its fusion with War Democrats like vice presidential nominee Andrew Johnson) held their event on June 7 in Baltimore, and Democrats convened in Chicago on August 29.

Since that’s been a while, and a few things have changed in terms of media and campaign techniques, it’s hard to say how such a long hiatus would affect the general election, if at all. It would certainly enable Democrats to plan their convention with extraordinary precision to appeal to a narrowed set of likely voters and mobilization targets. Plouffe suggests the Veep could be announced much earlier (he doesn’t say this, but it would make sense if there’s any drama whatsoever to the selection to execute it immediately after the GOP convention, to step on its “bounce” as, for example, Republicans did pretty effectively in 2008, at the price of inflicting Sarah Palin on their party and country).

Now if you subscribe to a Fundamentals theory of presidential elections, and/or you believe the 2016 contest isn’t going to be particularly close, none of these convention tactics matter a great deal. But you don’t have to go to the opposite pole of getting all Game Change-y to wonder if this kind of timing gap could have all sorts of interesting ripple effects on party strategy.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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