State Politics

Three key differences between the Republican and Democratic conventions

Delegates stand and cheer as Reverend William Barber delivers a speech on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Delegates stand and cheer as Reverend William Barber delivers a speech on the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Getty Images

Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech Thursday night capped off two back-to-back political conventions that proved to be some of the most contentious in recent memory.

The Democratic National Convention followed the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and both highlighted fractured parties that aren’t yet fully unified behind their presidential nominee.

A few of North Carolina’s delegates for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders walked out of the convention for a few hours in protest. And in Cleveland the week before, several delegates for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wanted to change convention rules so that delegates wouldn’t be pledged to candidates based on primary results – a long-shot effort to derail Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Neither effort affected the convention’s outcome, with the vast majority of the state’s convention delegates heading home with full support for Hillary Clinton and Trump.

I’ve spent the last two weeks on the road covering the conventions – having breakfast with the North Carolina delegates as they hear from party leaders, and taking in the electric atmosphere in the arena each night during prime-time speeches. Here’s a look at a few contrasts between the two events:

Delegate dissents got treated differently: In Cleveland, N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes had no sympathy for members of his party who refuse to support Trump.

Several of the anti-Trump delegates went home before the billionaire spoke on the final night of the convention. Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr got a cold response when he told a reporter that Trump is “a danger to the country.” The state GOP’s executive director lashed out, saying Orr “hasn’t been a good Republican for a long time.”

Orr is hardly a rogue Republican. He helped lead Gov. Pat McCrory’s bond campaign earlier this year, and he’s a strong supporter of the governor’s re-election bid.

Orr, who was a delegate for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, decided to leave early to escape the hostility. A day or so later, two Cruz delegates also hit the road before the final gavel. They’d planned to fly home with Hayes on his private plane, but he told them to find their own way home after they praised Cruz’s convention speech. Cruz prompted boos when he spoke and didn’t endorse Trump.

In Philadelphia, N.C. Democratic Party Chairwoman Patsy Keever had only positive comments about Sanders delegates, some of whom are still skeptical about Clinton and say they might not vote for her.

Keever directly addressed the Sanders crowd’s concerns at breakfast on Thursday. “I know we need to have a conversation together,” she said. “We appreciate and acknowledge the depth of your loyalty. We know you need time to heal.”

Keever echoed President Barack Obama’s Wednesday speech in which he called for all Democrats “to be as vocal and as organized and as persistent as Bernie Sanders supporters have been.”

“We know that the (Sanders) movement is not dead, and we’re glad that the movement is not dead,” Keever said. “We also need to be sure that Trump is not elected.”

The state’s Sanders delegation met informally after breakfast, and some called for holding off on Clinton criticism until after the election. They wore bright neon shirts Thursday night with the Sanders slogan “Enough is enough.”

DNC had more speakers from North Carolina: As a swing state, we’ve been getting visits from the presidential candidates almost every week. But North Carolina and its leaders didn’t get much of a spotlight at either convention.

The state’s incumbents and challengers for governor and U.S. Senate didn’t have speaking slots, probably because they didn’t attend – with the exception of brief delegation visits from U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and his Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross.

Since Burr and McCrory have now started campaigning with Trump, their absences could be a missed opportunity to drum up support – and campaign cash – from the GOP faithful nationwide. The same goes for Ross and gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper, both of whom are fully on board with Clinton’s campaign.

The Republican convention didn’t feature any speakers from North Carolina on the main stage, with the exception of a brief appearance from U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, who presented the party platform for a formal vote.

The Democratic convention was slated to include five speeches from North Carolinians, and four weren’t by politicians. Two Raleigh tech entrepreneurs, a Guilford County teacher, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield and NAACP leader William Barber all had short speaking slots.

State Republican delegates got face time with GOP stars like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who visited the delegation’s hotel for breakfast. But for Democratic delegates, swing state status didn’t bring high-profile visits, in part because Keever drew a short straw in the hotel lottery and ended up with a Holiday Inn an hour away from Philadelphia.

Several of the scheduled speakers got stuck in Philly’s brutal rush-hour traffic and never made it to meet the North Carolina delegation.

Democrats care more about House Bill 2: North Carolina’s controversial LGBT law was a frequent topic at the Democratic National Convention. Several speakers brought it up, and the arena was quick to boo any mention of the “bathroom bill.”

“When I say I’m from the state of North Carolina, they say, ‘Oh, that’s the state with the bathrooms,’ and it’s been a pretty frustrating thing to hear,” said Uriah Ward, a delegate from Greenville.

One of HB2’s most vocal opponents, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, spoke Thursday afternoon and praised Clinton’s commitment to LGBT rights. He was followed by Sarah McBride, the first transgender person to address a major party convention.

In Cleveland, the bathroom issue didn’t come up much on the Republican convention stage – with the exception of openly gay investor Peter Thiel’s speech, in which he called it a “distraction from our real problems.”

While Clinton is calling for a federal law protecting LGBT people from discrimination, Trump has been saying he wants to let states settle issues like HB2 – and he typically only talks about it when reporters ask.

North Carolina Republican delegates also had to be prompted to talk about HB2. State Rep. Bill Brawley of Mecklenburg County, serving as a Marco Rubio delegate, declined to speak with me about it, saying he’s more focused on tax and economic issues at the legislature.

And while Democrats want to make HB2 a top issue in the November election, Republicans aren’t so sure it will sway voters. “I don’t think it’s going to be the issue that a few months ago most of the press thought it was going to be,” Raleigh GOP delegate Charles Hellwig said during the convention. “For all the excitement and loud discussions, I don’t know that it changes many votes in North Carolina.”

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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