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Storm clouds nothing new for political conventions

August 22, 2012 by NCC Staff


The threat of a hurricane, literally, in Tampa may throw a few wrinkles into the Republican convention, but storm clouds are nothing new at these party gatherings.

The original Chicago wigwam

A quick look at the history of political conventions shows that the 1892 Democratic convention in Chicago was affected by severe weather at a key moment.

In a recap of the convention, written by a Stanford professor in 1942, a vivid scene is painted as the floor battled over the potential nominee.

The convention delegates battled soaking rains for most of the week, even though they were inside a 20,000-seat temporary building called the Wigwam. (The original Wigwam was destroyed in the 1871 Great Fire.)

On the first day, the roof broke in the temporary building, forcing delegates to use their umbrellas inside. Then things got odd on the last day of the convention.

The former president, Grover Cleveland, was fighting against his former gubernatorial running mate in New York, David B. Hill, for the nomination.

As William DeWitt, the delegate who put Hill’s name into nomination, rose to speak, a fierce storm hit the building, drowning out DeWitt’s voice. Soon, the roof leaked again over the speaker’s podium as the nomination was announced.

Cleveland easily defeated Hill for the party’s nomination, even though his own delegation from New York voted against him. Cleveland then went on to win the election.

Usually, the storm clouds at conventions are more philosophical and political.

There hasn’t been a contested or multiballot convention since 1952 for the Democrats and 1948 for the Republicans.

In prior years, political parties settled the presidential nomination race on the convention floor, and not in primaries.

The 1924 Democratic convention in New York saw 103 ballots before a compromise candidate, John W. Davis, take the nomination from Al Smith and William McAdoo. The Klu Klux Klan showed up for that convention, fielded delegates, and even had a massive Klan rally in New Jersey.

The 1912 GOP convention rivaled the 1924 Democratic gathering for drama, as former President Theodore Roosevelt stomped out of the gathering, split the GOP in two, and formed his own party.

And the 1948 Democratic convention also saw a public split as some Southern party members, upset with a civil rights platform, walked out and started a Dixiecrat ticket headed by Strom Thurmond.

In recent years, the violence at the 1968 Democratic convention marked a low point for political gatherings. Thousands of anti-war protesters battled thousands of police in the streets on Chicago, in violence that overshadowed the convention.

Since then, conventions have been more sedate affairs.

And until the recent change in the weather forecast, the biggest drama in Tampa was speculation that Joe Biden or Sarah Palin would show up in southern Florida.

Now, convention watchers will be paying more attention to The Weather Channel and the National Hurricane Center, to see if the convention will be a washout.

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