Your NPR news source

Dems Say Convention Links Politics and People

SHARE Dems Say Convention Links Politics and People

It used to be the national political conventions were full of mystery. The nominee for president often emerged only after several rounds of voting and backroom deals. That's not how it works anymore. There's no doubt Barack Obama is going to get the nod this week at the Democratic Convention in Denver. Despite the changing nature of conventions, attendees say the political tradition is still important.

Conventions are often derided for being essentially week-long commercials for the presidential candidates.

But Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin says those commercials serve an important purpose. DURBIN: You think after all 19 months of campaigning someone has to tell the Barack Obama story and the answer is yes. There are many Americans who don't focus on politics until the last minute. This convention is really an effort to knock on the door of a lot of American voters and say guess what, it's an election year.

Durbin was talking last night as he walked into a party for the Illinois democratic delegation.

Politicians, delegates and their guests ate tiny sandwiches and egg roles and other appetizers at Marlowe's, a steakhouse in downtown Denver.

It's in an old loft-type building with big awnings and tables on the sidewalk.

Delegates watched pedestrians go by as they sipped drinks at the party sponsored by Pfizer and the Chicago Board Options Exchange.

The party provided an opportunity for attendees to talk shop.

Jay Hoffman is an Illinois legislator from the Collinsville area just east of St. Louis.

He says the Democrats will set their course for the future over the next few days.

HOFFMAN: The planning really starts here. Could you do that at home? I guess but really you are here and we're living politics, we're talking about politics and we're talking about the future of the democratic party as we as delegates see it. If you're not here, you can't be part of that process.

That's a lesson that Gay Bruhn has taken to heart.

She calls herself feminist and a past president of Illinois NOW, the National Organization for Women.

She came to Denver for one reason.

BRUHN: I came to vote for Hillary.

Bruhn hopes that by participating in the convention, she'll be able to send a message.

BRUHN: As a women's movement we're serious, and we want the respect of the Democratic Party.

Bruhn thinks that by voicing her concerns this week, she can help make the party more sensitive to the issues she cares about.

Like Bruhn, Debbie Halvorsen has a clear agenda this week.

She's the Illinois Senate Majority leader but she's running for congress in a district southwest of Chicago.

She says the convention is a great place to network and meet people.

HALVORSON: We don't fundraise here. We just meet people because really I'm here as a delegate. I'm here to build Illinois' excitement about nominating our president but it's nice to talk to people and say I'm going to give you a call in a couple weeks, let's get together.

Halvorson says the convention provides her with an opportunity to meet people from different states who are willing to help her because they want to see as many Democrats in congress as possible.

Illinois State Comptroller Dan Hynes says it's common for politicians to use the convention to promote themselves.

In fact he recently sent out a flyer hi-lighting his activities at the convention and at the bottom, readers were asked to make a contribution to support his future political efforts.

But he says this convention is special.

HYNES: Presidential campaigns can be pretty impersonal. You can feel pretty detached from a presidential campaign because they're so big and they're usually run out of Washington and you don't know the candidate at all. Most of the delegates, most of the people here myself included, knew Barack when he was a state legislator, when he was a community activist, when he was a law professor, when he was a teacher and that makes it really special to really know the person up close and personal.

Hynes is one of several Illinois politicians slated to use that up close and personal knowledge to vouch for Obama before a national audience later today.

At the Democratic National Convention in Denver, I'm Robert Wildeboer, Chicago Public Radio.

More From This Show