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10 best political conventions

by Brian Clarey

2012 Democratic National Convention; Charlotte

Okay, so the 2012 Democratic convention down in the Queen City isn’t until Sept. 3, but things are already bustling down there. Obama’s set to accept his party’s nomination for the 2012 election in front of 75,000 people at Bank of America Stadium, and we’ve already applied for press credentials. It’s gonna be the best. Hence this list.

2004 Democratic National Convention; Boston

The 2004 DNC was noteworthy not because of the headliner: Sen. John Kerry, whose run against incumbent George W. Bush will not be remembered so much as the future antics of his running mate, John Edwards, who had yet to father a child with a campaign staffer of dubious utility. This was also the year a little-known freshman senator from Illinois made his big debut by giving the keynote speech. I remember seeing Barack Obama on TV for the first time and thinking to myself: “Why the hell isn’t this guy running?”

1988 Republican National Convention; New Orleans.

I include this one for two reasons. This was where President George HW Bush delivered his famous “Thousand Points of Light” speech, which included the oft-quoted line, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Also, it went down Aug. 15-18, the week I moved to New Orleans. I remember seeing the Superdome for the first time, draped in bunting.

1968 Democratic National Convention; Chicago

You can’t do a list like this without including the infamous 1968 DNC, held in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Mike Wallace and Dan Rather made their careers covering the clash between protesters and Chicago cops, who were backed by the National Guard. The event saw a police riot, a grop called the “Chicago 7” stand trial for incitement and the mayor of Chicago uttering a racial slur towards Sen. Abraham Ribicoff.

1976 Republican National Convention; Kansas City, Mo.

Admittedly, the deck was stacked against eventual nominee and incumbent President Gerald Ford in 1976, who chose Sen. Bob Dole as his running mate at this to-do. Ford, you remember, was coming off the Watergate mess, and he almost didn’t get the nomination — rare for an incumbent these days — after a surge by California Gov. Ronald Reagan in the primary process.

1960 Democratic National Convention; Los Angeles,

Not even longtime nominee Adlai Stevenson and eventual running mate Lyndon Baines Johnson could topple the Kennedy political machine. This was also the locale for one of Norman Mailer’s most famous pieces of journalism, “Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” a profile of JFK that ran in the November 1960 Esquire.

1964 Republican National Convention; San Francisco

Arizona hardass Sen. Barry Goldwater accepted his party’s nomination on stage at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, years before the hippies took over, but this was the first time a woman’s name — Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine — was on the presidential ballot. Bonus fact: The keynote speaker was Ronald Reagan, who was still an actor in those days.

1980 Democratic National Convention; New York City

Woo-hoo, baby! This one dropped at Madison Square Garden, where Sen. Ted Kennedy made his move against incumbent Jimmy Carter, attempting to swipe his delegates in a last gasp for power. You know who spoke at this one? Howard Dean.

1860 Republican National Convention; Chicago

This one came right before the Civil War, where Lincoln prevailed over his challengers in the primary, and eventually gave each one of them seats on his Cabinet.

The 1831Anti-Masonic Convention; Baltimore

The very first American political convention was organized by a party that originated in upstate New York, begun as a reaction to the Freemasons, supposedly an elitist organization who were murdering rivals in their secret bid to instill Republican values in our government.

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