February 28, 2012 at 12:58 pm EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
Party conventions offer inspiration, lifelong memories

On Saturday, March 3, the D.C. Democratic State Committee will hold its caucus to choose up to 13 potential delegates and one alternate to the Democratic National Convention. I urge every registered Democrat, especially the friends of all the candidates, to come out and vote. Being a delegate is a great experience. While there is no contest in the Democratic Party for the nomination, and the entire convention will be choreographed down to the last minute, it will still be exciting. Having attended four conventions in different roles I can attest to that.

When a president is running for re-election, conventions are both a place to party and to make a statement to the nation on goals for the next four years. They are also a place to rally the troops. When there is a contested race for the nomination, even if it is decided before the convention, the machinations can be riveting. My most recent experience was at the 2008 convention in Denver and my first in Atlantic City in 1964.

In 1964 (I wasn’t old enough to vote) at the Lyndon Baines Johnson convention, I had an alternate delegate badge the night Bobby Kennedy showed a film in remembrance of his late brother, President John F. Kennedy. There wasn’t a dry eye in the hall and people went wild giving Bobby a 20-minute rousing ovation with delegates standing on their chairs the entire time. Had President Johnson not announced that he had selected Hubert Humphrey as his running mate prior to that evening, delegates surely would have stampeded the convention and given Bobby the nomination. It was a night to remember.

I didn’t go to another convention until 1976 in New York City. At that one I had unlimited access as a member of the New York City Mayor’s Convention and Crisis team. I was supporting Rep. Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) who was in the midst of what turned out to be a losing Senate primary. So between escorting Bella to a round of parties, including her own fundraisers, and being on the floor to see Jimmy Carter nominated, it was great fun. The next was 1980, again in New York City. By this time I had moved to D.C. and had worked for the Carter administration. I managed to secure press credentials and was reporting on the convention for a disability magazine.

That was the year Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) mounted a losing primary bid against Jimmy Carter. But leave it to the Kennedys to make a splash and though it was Carter’s convention the highlight turned out to be Ted Kennedy’s “The dream will never die” speech. I had front-row seats and the place went wild. It was an electric moment and the unanimous sentiment heard around Madison Square Garden was if he had only spoken like that and shared that vision during the campaign he might have been the nominee.

In 2008, I was honored to be the only elected Hillary Rodham Clinton delegate from the District. It happened at a caucus just like the one that will be held this Saturday. I submitted my name as a lark and won. So I urge all the potential candidates not to give up hope and make those last-minute calls to your friends and get them to come out and vote for you. As a delegate you will be invited to many events and parties and have a guaranteed seat on the floor of the hall. It will be both a hectic and fun four days. In 2008, there were two especially memorable highlights. The first was when Hillary took the microphone on the floor of the convention and called for Barack Obama’s nomination to be unanimous. The second was the nomination acceptance speech Barack Obama made in front of 80,000 people at Mile-High Stadium.

I won’t be a candidate this year but for those of you trying to win a delegate slot thinking it will only be the coronation of Barack Obama, know there will be memories that that will last the rest of your life. While you will hear a lot of boring speeches, there will also be some great ones and you will surely come away excited, ready to campaign, and knowing again how important it is to ensure that Barack Obama is re-elected.

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