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A tropical storm may have delayed the start of the Republican National Convention by a day, but the proceedings are under way in Tampa, Fla.
Republican hard-hitters like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were slated to address the party’s delegates Tuesday, setting the tone for the event that concludes Thursday.
The Democratic National Convention will follow next week in Charlotte, N.C., with speakers including former President Bill Clinton and former Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.
Not long ago, the conventions were held to determine the party’s presidential candidate. More recently, they have been the forum for where the hopefuls would announce their vice presidential picks.
Not so this year. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are running for re-election on the Democratic ticket, while Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has tapped Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.
As a result, there’s little suspense for the conventions, said Charles Bullock, University of Georgia legislative and Southern politics professor.
“They don’t have nearly the significance they used to have,” he said. “The highlight of the conventions now is the acceptance speech made by the presidential nominee and lesser so the one made by the vice presidential nominee. For those voters who haven’t paid much attention to the long spring primary season on the Republican side, and there are some out there, this may be the first time they really begin to figure out who Mitt Romney is.
“It’s a chance for him to make a first impression with some segment of the voters.”
For those heavily involved in the political process, the convention is largely uneventful as both parties are working to rally support, Bullock said. The real benefit is for those in attendance, specifically the delegates, or those who officially select their party’s nominee.
Four members of the Forsyth County Republican Party and one member of the local Democratic Party are representing the county at the conventions.
Forsyth residents Peggy Green, Frank Simpson, Richard Ward and Johnny Merritt are four of about 4,400 delegates and alternates at the Republican gathering. Venda Rhea Young will be among the Democratic convention’s nearly 6,000 delegates.
For them, Bullock said, Tampa and Charlotte will be exciting places.
“One of the things we hope the conventions will do is to inspire those folks who go there to go back home and work diligently for the election — not just for president, but for the entire ticket of their party,” Bullock said.
Still, the conventions are being televised for a reason. Those viewing from home can be energized by the full lineup both parties have from past, present and future leaders.
“If you’re a partisan, you may be inspired by what you hear,” Bullock said. “If you’re one of those folks who is completely on the fence, you really don’t know, whether you haven’t paid attention or haven’t decided, then what you hear might tip you in one way or another.”
Forsyth County Republican Party Chairman Ethan Underwood said the convention is really a “pep rally.”
For Georgia, which voted in the presidential preference election for Newt Gingrich over Romney, the convention is particularly significant.
“Mitt Romney was not the candidate of choice for Forsyth County of for Georgia,” Underwood said. “He’s our best shot at making sure Barack Obama is not serving a second term.”
The convention, Underwood said, “gives us the opportunity to get behind him.”
The Democratic convention, which runs Sept. 3-6, will rally Democrats behind their president because Romney and Ryan “are not good options,” said Forsyth County Democratic Party Chairwoman Sharon Gunter.
The sitting party’s convention also has a different purpose.
“Since they don’t have that major decision of who they are going to put in as a candidate, they’re going to be discussing issues and how can they inform each other of solutions,” she said. “There are more things that are at stake in this nation than just who the president is going to be sitting at the White House.”
Despite Forsyth and Georgia’s involvement in both conventions, “there are only about 10 states where any of this could make much difference,” Bullock said.
Florida, Bullock said, is the “biggest prize out there.” Georgia is probably not going to “come into play.”