Friday, May 25, 2018
Politics

What convention truce?

With two days on the road, President Barack Obama is shredding the final remnants of a venerable tradition in presidential politics: Each party takes a break from campaigning during the other party's convention.

The notion of a convention "truce" took a hit four years ago, when both Obama and Republican John McCain opted for a few campaign jaunts during the other's party gathering.

But such a high-profile campaign swing — the first by a sitting president during his opponent's convention in recent history — marks a counterprogramming offensive that ends what traditionalists consider a last vestige of civility in an age of nonstop partisan combat.

In addition, Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to be in Tampa to contrast the Obama ticket with the Republicans — until Tropical Storm Isaac canceled the trip.

The Democrats aren't the only ones to abandon tradition. Mitt Romney will be campaigning in battleground states during next week's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., his spokesman Kevin Madden said. The campaign has not said which states he will visit.

Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters: "There's ample precedent for presidents, candidates, vice presidents campaigning during the other party convention. The president campaigned four years ago. John Kerry campaigned eight years ago, and there is less than 70 days left in the election, until the election, so we know we can't cede a day or a time with voters or a time in an important state."

But Obama's two-day, three-state campaign swing across college campuses this week breaks tradition. It also comes as all eyes are focused on the Gulf Coast, expected to bear the brunt of Isaac.

In 2004, George W. Bush went to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, during the Democratic National Convention but dispatched a group of surrogates for contrast and rapid response purposes. The Bush campaign even declined to run ads during the DNC. His opponent, Kerry, did one American Legion event that he said was scheduled long before the Republican National Convention.

In 2000, Bush also retreated to Crawford during the DNC, telling reporters, "I am going to hang out, be with my wife, maybe chop a little cedar, maybe fish some of the tanks." Al Gore stayed in North Carolina during the RNC. His wife, Tipper, said they would be watching a movie instead of the convention.

In 1996 and 1992, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush both took vacations to Jackson, Wyo., during the RNC and DNC, respectively.

This is not to say that candidates did not send surrogates or have war rooms respond to attacks — almost all candidates from both parties sent staffers or representatives nearby to the other party's conventions to offer rebuttals.

But the tradition came unglued in 2008, when both McCain and Obama decided to continue campaigning through the other party's conventions. McCain did a number of small trips the week of the DNC, and announced his running mate on the Friday after the convention closed to stop any Obama "bump."

Obama, too, had planned a campaign swing in 2008 — until Hurricane Gustav slammed into the Gulf Coast. He cut short events on the first day of the RNC to monitor the hurricane, canceled his events on the second day, then resumed campaigning the last two days with events in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

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