Grand old parties for Dems, too

Ben Affleck, Spike Lee among stars headed to Denver

DENVER -- Let the partying begin.

After a long primary fight, polls that show a tight race and this past weekend's selection of Sen. Barack Obama's running mate, the worlds of politics, media and entertainment will converge in the Mile High City this week for the Democratic National Convention.

High-wattage stars such as Ben Affleck, Kanye West and Spike Lee are set to light up parties and the convention floor for four days, culminating in Obama's presumptive nomination-acceptance speech Thursday. With 15,000 journalists and hundreds of bloggers on hand, the DNC undoubtedly will dominate headlines around the globe.

Issues will be on the minds of many from Hollywood, including members of the Creative Coalition, which is transporting a contingent of celebrity advocates to Denver this week and to the Republican National Convention next week in St. Paul, Minn.

"We're bringing our delegation from the 51st state of Hollywood," Creative Coalition executive director Robin Bronk said.

That contingent and similar delegations hope to bring awareness to convention delegates and thousands of party leaders on the local, state and national levels. Corporations also will make their presence felt, with some spending upward of $1 million to throw lavish parties and wine and dine delegates.

"The issue-based organizations and the issue-based causes have paired up with some of the celebrities and some of the corporate interests," said Tom Sheridan, a consultant for the One Campaign, which brought U2 frontman Bono to the DNC four years ago in Boston to speak about the AIDS crisis in Africa. "It feels a lot more like we're not just focusing on a party."

Dozens of parties and concerts are planned, from an exclusive Vanity Fair-Google extravaganza to the One Campaign's concert, headlined by West, to smaller events that might or might not have celebrities attached.

Every four years, there are grumblings about how the major-party political conventions have become nothing but infomercials. It's true: A lot of the behind-the-scenes things that used to make a convention are long gone. A floor fight, or a turning of delegates, is about as likely as Rep. Dennis Kucinich walking away with the Democratic nomination.

"They've produced, in a sense, their own four-day 'American Idol,'" said Rick Kaplan, executive producer of "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric."

Again this year, the Big Four plan to air an hour of nightly coverage from both major-party conventions, during the 10 p.m. slot. The DNC schedule is set to include speeches by Michelle Obama tonight, Sen. Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, presumptive running mate Sen. Joseph Biden on Wednesday and Barack Obama on Thursday.

Even without the backroom intrigue of past conventions, count ABC News anchor Charles Gibson as a fan. He attended his first convention in 1968, as a local TV reporter, and thinks there are terrific story lines behind the 2008 conventions, particularly with presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain's attacks on Obama as aloof toward common people.

"The single bottom line is whether either party can articulate a cogent, comprehensive economic strategy that this country will respond to," Gibson said. "This is their shot, and I would hate it if they didn't have four hours of network time to make their cases."

Kaplan agrees.

"If you're looking for breaking news, the convention is not the place to look for it," he said. "But if you're looking to understand the candidates better, if you're looking to get a firmer grip on where they stand and where they go, and to take a measure, you need to watch."

Need another reason to watch? How about the Clinton factor? The world will be watching Clinton's speech for signs of wavering. Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, is set to speak Wednesday, though not in primetime. There also could be a roll-call vote Wednesday.

"There's always the possibility a story could happen because of that," NBC News political director Chuck Todd said. "How are the Clintons going to handle being second fiddle? Frankly, it's for the first time ever since being first fiddle."

Don't forget, also, that Obama made a national name for himself as the DNC's keynote speaker in 2004.

"It's a great story with a lot of different angles," CNN senior vp David Bohrman said.

For the most part, the conventions will play out on cable and, increasingly, the Internet. Gavel-to-gavel coverage departed the broadcast networks two decades ago, but even cable networks, which plan to devote as many as 20 hours a day to convention coverage, will not show every speech or event from the podium.

That will be left to the Web, where several networks plan to stream gavel to gavel for political junkies. Others, including Fox News Channel and PBS, will produce live webcasts. PBS' online coverage will, for the first time, include an assigned correspondent, Ray Suarez.

Fox News plans to stream live Web editions of "The Strategy Room," 24/7, from both conventions. It will be the first time "Room" will go 24/7, and the network promises a cinema verite approach, along with appearances and anchoring stints by Fox News talent.

"There aren't any commercial breaks," Fox News Channel executive producer Jay Wallace said. "When there's a pause in the action in the online room for Brit (Hume), you can see cameras crossing through (and) directors talking. It's a cool 'page 2' into the newsroom."

Only a little work remains inside and outside Pepsi Center, a 19,000-seat venue where the first three days of the DNC will take place. That is not the case at 74,000-seat Invesco Field at Mile High, where Obama is set to deliver his acceptance speech.

Because of a Denver Broncos preseason game Friday, convention organizers did not begin to prepare the stadium until Saturday. The networks will not get inside the venue until Monday, and they will push to install cameras and build anchor platforms.

"It'll be a rush because of the football schedule, but we'll be prepared," said ABC News executive vp Dave Davis said.
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