Election 2004 and the Democratic convention

Richard Sloman, Baltimore: Every major news outlet reported the "Shove it" comment [by Teresa Heinz Kerry] but The Sun. Why?

Davis: The Sun actually was one of the few major news outlet to have original coverage of the "Shove it" comment in the next day's paper, although it appeared in a convention notebook column that ran inside the paper, rather than on the front page. At a huge convention like this one, it is difficult to find prominent space in the paper for all of the news we think readers need to know about. The stories that got front-page play the next day were pieces about all that would happen on the opening day of the convention, and a feature about Bill and Hillary Clinton, who were some of the biggest news of the week. "Shove it" occurred late in the day and we did not feel that it was newsworthy enough to replace either of those stories we already had planned. So we included it in our notebook, which we try to fill with items that give a sense of the interesting, colorful goings-on here at the convention.

Also, the "Shove it" anecdote led our profile in Tuesday's paper of Teresa Heinz Kerry. That's a piece of detail that other profiles did not have, because so few other news outlets had someone covering the event where it happened.

Jeff, Baltimore: How do delegates get selected, and who are the people in the Electoral College?

Davis: The delegate-selection process varies from state to state. In Maryland, some delegates are elected during the primaries, and others are elected by the state party. People interested in becoming delegates are usually advised to contact their state party or the campaign of the candidate they support. There are 538 "electors" in the Electoral College, whose votes are allocated according to who wins the popular vote in each state. The process of choosing the electors also varies from state to state. In Maryland, they are chosen by the state party anytime before Election Day.

La'Rae, Baltimore: What does Kerry have to offer the almost-middle class people -- people who are not rich but not so poor. People who cannot afford $100,000 homes, but $70,000-$90,000 is all right. ... What does Kerry have in mind for us? We are too poor to send our children to college and pay for it, but not poor enough to go for free. Some of us are married, which just makes it harder for us to get the help we need (like with child care, buying a home). We make enough to pay the bills but with the cost of child care, we just can't afford it. Some of us are white and some of us are black. Most of us are all in the same boat. What does Kerry have to offer us?

Davis: Kerry argues that his plans on tax cuts, education and health care will help people like you. Unlike some Democratic candidates who proposed rolling back all the tax cuts that President Bush has enacted, Kerry wants to eliminate only the tax cuts that went to people who earn more than $200,000 a year, and use that money to pay for a $4,000 tax credit for college tuition, a $5,000 child care tax credit and health care tax credits for businesses and people who have the most trouble paying for medical costs. Kerry and Edwards also aim to cut health care premiums by $1,000.

Bush says that Kerry's plans are too expensive, and that he would have to raise taxes to accomplish them -- something that would cost you money. But Kerry and Edwards argue that they can make things more affordable without a tax hike.

Maureen Beaupre, Annapolis: Where is the Maryland delegation seated [at the Democratic Convention], and are they seated together for the whole event?

Davis: The Maryland delegation is seated at stage-right, meaning if you are looking at the convention stage, they are on the left side of the hall in the side bleachers. They are seated together for the whole event, but like all of the delegates, they can -- and often do -- move around the convention hall freely.

John Wilkinson, Baltimore: Why has the press avoided the fact that Heinz Kerry called the reporter who she told to stuff it that his paper was a right-wing rag? Also, why hasn't anyone addressed the fact that she did in fact say it was an "un-American activity?" Why is she denying this?

Davis: It seems to me like the press actually has made quite a lot of the fact that the person she insulted was the editorial page editor for a conservative newspaper. Very few reporters actually witnessed the event, which could explain why there weren't more stories about it in the newspapers. I was one of the few who was there when it happened, and I can tell you that Heinz Kerry did not call the man's paper a "right-wing rag." My story, and most others I've seen, did explain that Heinz Kerry said the word "un-American," but they also noted that she did not say the words "un-American activity" -- a phrase from the McCarthy era, which has a much more controversial connotation.

Karen Sisk, Frederick: Has the real value of the convention shifted from picking a candidate to behind-the-scenes wooing of campaign donations?

Davis: The real value of the convention definitely has shifted over the past three decades. It used to be a real, substantive process where disparate parts of the party discussed their differences, engaged in real political horse-trading and negotiation, and then came to consensus around a candidate. Now, it is more of a party pep rally and a chance for the candidates to introduce themselves to the nation over several days of prime-time television and prominent newspaper coverage.

The convention itself is not really a fund-raising vehicle, but it is certainly used as a mechanism for rewarding big donors for their generosity (they get access to VIPs, fancy parties, etc.), and a way for corporations who want to be players in the political process to get some attention through parties and receptions. The campaign finance system is, in large part, responsible for changing the role of the conventions, because it has pushed the parties to re-engineer the primary system so that a nominee can be chosen early enough to have the time and support he or she needs to raise the massive sums that are necessary to run a present-day presidential campaign.

Mike, Columbia: Who generates the biggest buzz -- the candidates, the past presidents or the celebs?

Davis: Past presidents are always a big draw, especially when they're as popular as Bill Clinton, but a major celebrity can trump all of that. The candidates certainly get a lot of recognition, but the buzz is generally around the people whose names aren't on the ballot.

David, Chester: Does one person or group of persons prescreen every speech made at the convention? When was the last time there was a surprise?

Davis: Yes, there is a staff of speechwriters that vets every speech made at the convention. This year, one of their major jobs has been to make sure that George W. Bush-bashing is kept to a minimum and people put out positive messages about John Kerry and John Edwards. I don't believe there has been a surprise for at least the last three cycles (during the last dozen years).

Marcy Baer, Towson: Is there a hierarchy created based on when a speaker addresses the convention? And can it be read as punishment if a speaker is put at a really bad time of day?

Davis: Yes and yes. These days, major broadcast news networks only cover one or two hours of the convention, in the 8-10 p.m. time slot. If you're not in that time period, many fewer people are going to hear you (cable watchers), so podium time is awarded directly on the basis of how powerful or important to the party you are.

Steve, Towson: When you report on the convention speeches, do you watch from the convention floor or do you watch the speech on a TV somewhere else in the arena?

Davis: We watch from seats in the arena, with a television monitor on our desk so that we can see how the speaker is coming across to viewers at home. That way, we get a sense of the mood of the delegates and the style of the speaker, as well as a good idea of how it's playing to voters who are tuning in around the country.

Lydia, Owings Mills: Who pays for the convention? The Democrats? The taxpayers?

Davis: The Democrats pay for the convention. But taxpayers may end up footing some of the bill, since the security and transportation arrangements in the city have been intense, and have probably cost quite a bit. The Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service, as well as Boston police, have been on hand to secure Boston and the FleetCenter.