(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) — August in Denver saw one of the most iconic scenes of the summer of 2008: A young senator marching out into the roar of a jam-packed stadium, accepting his party’s nomination as almost 80,000 people looked on.
President Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention was historic — not only because he was the first black nominee for any major party, but also since he gave the only open-air stadium acceptance speech at a convention since John F. Kennedy in 1960.
This year, Democrats are again looking to make an impression, hosting the first convention that both opens and closes with free events for the public.
“We are empowering Americans to participate and including more people than ever before,” said Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Convention Committee.
Democrats’ convention festivities kicked off Labor Day with CarolinaFest 2012, a free, public street fair in downtown Charlotte, N.C. In January, organizers announced they were cutting official convention business down — from four days to three — to make room for the festival.
And the convention’s climax comes on Thursday, when Obama accepts the party’s presidential nod. His speech is slated for Bank of America Stadium, rain or shine, with tickets available to the public through a “community credential” process.
“There’s not a similar effort happening in the other city hosting the other convention,” said Suzi Emmerling, spokesperson for the Charlotte in 2012 Convention Host Committee, which handles convention fundraising. She said the street fair and speech will open the convention to “literally tens of thousands of people” who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get involved.
In Tampa, Fla., the only members of the public who attended the four-day Republican National Convention were the 10,000 GOP volunteers already in place, according to convention officials.
“A lot of that is based on security concerns,” said Ken Jones, president and CEO of the 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee. “Given the nature and the security of the event, it’s very difficult to do truly wide-open events.”
Instead of inviting the public in, Republicans relied on their convention app and a social media push, “Convention Without Walls,” for people to follow along with GOP happenings.
Some political observers say the choice to include the public or not in convention activities is simply a matter of preference.
“I don’t think it says Republicans are closed to the public and the Democrats are more open to it,” said John Geer, chair of the political science department at Vanderbilt University.
Conventions are almost a “four-day political advertisement,” he said, and it’s important for each party to get its message out as effectively as possible.
For Obama, a public event to replicate his iconic 2008 acceptance speech might be just the ticket to boost post-convention ratings and re-energize supporters.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ruth Brown, Idaho Press-Tribune
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN