The RNC and the DNC (on August 28 and September 3, respectively) give our country's two great parties the hallowed right to select their presidential candidates. Except, for the last several decades this hasn't been true; they merely announce the candidates. These days, the prospective heads of state just host days-long ego trips. Consider it a senior prom with the queen nomination on lock. The balloons will be thick, the stagecraft elaborate, the speeches high-blown, and the after-parties debauched. Here, we pit party against party in several categories and declare a winner in each.
REPUBLICANS: Tampa, Florida
Known for cigars, Busch Gardens (the only theme park sponsored by beer), and, most of all, strip clubs. At 18, Channing Tatum grabbed his first pole here a mere 12 miles from the GOP venue. Favorite spots includes Mons Venus, boasting acrobatic nude dancers (some of them former Playboy models) and Scarlett's in Ybor City, where "the place lets you have as much fun as you want," as one Yelp! reviewer delicately puts it. Local club owners are prepping for the convention with (pardon the expression) backdoor entrances and delegate discounts, and for good reason: On average, Republicans spent $150 per person at adult clubs during conventions in Minnesota and New York. Throw in plenty of conventional bars and the Hard Rock casino nearby, and you've got yourself a regular Gomorrah—assuming God, or Hurricane Isaac by proxy, doesn't sweep it all away.
DEMOCRATS: Charlotte, North Carolina
Home to the Nascar Hall of Fame (visitors uniformly praise the simulator rides and pit crew competitions) and hang-out of the Hunger Games cast during filming—Lenny Kravitz was a particular fan of Price's Chicken Coop ("The best fried chicken on earth. Period," says a local). Charlotte is also the second largest financial center in the US—sometimes dubbed Wall Street South. Upscale clubs like Butter NC, where the walls are velvet and the DJs "world-class," and restaurants like Mimosa Grill, where the burgers come topped with foie gras, let financial types indulge. The Dems are welcome too, but only if they stop calling bankers fat cats.
If there's one subject they understand completely, it's women's bodies, and Tampa's clubs are full of 'em. (The x factor: Hurricane Isaac.)
REPUBLICANS: Tampa Bay Times Forum
The Forum has hosted rodeos and figure skating, but never a presidential convention. In preparation, the building has undergone a $35 million renovation, adding a grand plaza entrance and bar, padding the seats, updating the bathrooms, and installing an "11,000 square-foot outdoor deck and party area." Romney's podium/stage alone is a monster edifice of flat-screens and cherrywood: the RNC press release says it's designed to evoke "America's Living Room" and "American Prairie-Style architecture" (and those two concepts are by no means synonymous). The $2.5 million ziggurat only reached fruition after Romney vetoed six other plans.
DEMOCRATS: Time Warner Cable Arena/Bank of America Stadium
The Time Warner Arena has hosted hard partiers like Lil Wayne and Ke$ha, as well as Season 2 auditions of American Idol, making it the perfect venue for America's "celebrity president." The real action goes down at the second venue on Thursday, September 6, when the Big O accepts his nomination at the Bank of America Stadium. After taking a strong stand against corporate donations to the convention, accepting the nomination at a BoA-sponsored location rings a bit false (for a time, DNC e-mails referred to the spot as "Panthers Stadium.") We think the locals' nickname, The Vault, has a much cooler ring to it.
For choosing spotless post-renovation digs and designing a podium more charismatic than its candidate.
REPUBLICANS: New Jersey governor Chris Christie (keynote), former Alabama representative Artur Davis, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Arizona senator John McCain, Speaker John Boehner, and others.
You can count on Chris "Get the hell off the beach" Christie for a fervent keynote, and as long as he keeps the swearing to a minimum, he'll offer just the right level of blubber and bluster to offset Romney's confused-robot routine. Davis' speech may be the most interesting: former co-chair of Obama's first campaign, he defected to the Republican side in 2010 and is expected to "give voice to the frustration felt among those who supported President Obama in 2008." Count on Santorum for some nanny-state bedroom talk and Boehner for some errant tears, while McCain will be worrying over what his loose-lipped daughter Meghan might be saying at a nearby gathering hosted by Life and Variety.
DEMOCRATS: San Antonio mayor Julian Castro (keynote), former president Jimmy Carter, former president Bill Clinton, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Massachusetts senator John Kerry, and others.
Castro, the 37-year-old mayor of San Antonio, seems like Obama's protege: he's young, Harvard-educated, and easy on the eyes. And just as Barack did during the 2004 DNC, Castro's tasked with delivering a rousing keynote and appealing to a demographic that could decide the course of the race. Note that the Dems have the market cornered on former POTUSes—Jimmy Carter will deliver a speech via satellite (very Emperor Palpatine), and Bill's talk is sure to reference the once and future prosperity of America under a steady Democratic hand. Still, it would be nice to hear from Hillary, even if it were just via text. Emanuel's return from the Chicago mother ship is heartening, and as for Kerry, well, we all need a nap now and then.
Christie can come off like a foul-mouthed toddler, which is certainly engaging, but Castro's keynote promises a younger, fresher take on the future of his party.
REPUBLICANS: "You're Fired!"
Trump recently tweeted "Today I am working on a 'big surprise' for the @RNC convention. Everyone will love it." Meanwhile, he was photographed with Kevin Michael, "fauxbama" impersonator, who encouraged fans to watch the RNC. Over at Salon, Alex Pareene forecasts a "You're fired" skit. With the Monday cancellations, however, Trump may not get his jibe in. Which is fine, as this is one horse we'd rather let die.
DEMOCRATS: Reality programming
Early drafts of the DNC speaking plan include nightly "social contrast" segments, highlighting two "real people" sharing their stories in relation to issues like DADT, abortion, and immigration. In each pair, one praises Obama's policies and damns Romney's through their own anecdotes. One ideal couple involves "a gay soldier and a fellow (straight) soldier who served together (ideally the straight soldier was helped by the gay soldier.)" So, this is about as unscripted as the Real Housewives franchise.
Because we'd rather see a schmaltz-fest than a faux-bamarama.
The GOP is stringing up the velvet ropes to keep out the riffraff. Unless you're a delegate, party official, or have the right media credentials, there's no way you're making it to the RNC. Tickets are not for sale, so a GOP fanboy's best bet is to (a) become a delegate, (b) become a sponsor, or (c) start crashing the after-parties.
The opening and closing events of the convention are an open invite, provided you've done the necessary leg work (but feel free to leave a tip in the party jar!). The final event, the president's acceptance of the nomination at Bank of America/Panther's Stadium, requires "community credentials." These could be attained by the 9-3-1 rule: nine hours of volunteering, in three discrete stints, gets you one confirmed ticket, though as of Sunday, that supply has run out.
WINNER: Democrats, for recognizing that involvement is just as valuable as investment, even if the 9-3-1 sounds like a fraternity rush.
REPUBLICANS: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kid Rock, Gavin DeGraw, The Commodores, The Oak Ridge Boys, Trace Adkins, Wyclef Jean, Journey.
While many of these acts will be performing outside the convention proper at affiliated events, the Republicans have rounded up a group of knee-slappin', guitar-strummin' Southern gents, with a healthy helping of funk and soul favorites. Allegations that Romney himself shelled out $500,000 for the Journey performance proved false. Rumors of Michaele Salahi's attendance (DC's ultimate party monster, and girlfriend of Journey guitarist Neal Schon) are sadly true.
DEMOCRATS: Flo-Rida, Common, The Roots, The Foo Fighters, The B-52s, Pitbull, The Scissor Sisters.
In the worst scheduling faux pas since Sunday-night cable programming, the final evening of the DNC convention will coincide with MTV's Video Music Awards. This has stunted their line-up a bit, but the program still feels a lot hipper than what attendees will hear in Tampa. If the mandate to uphold the middle class doesn't get you up out of your seat, Pitbull sure will.
WINNER: A draw. No party can force us to choose between The Commodores and The Roots (though Dems clearly have the edgier lineup).
REPUBLICANS: Hurricane Isaac, strippers.
Even the best parties are threatened by a potential crasher, and in this case it comes in the form of a swirling mass of low pressure and condensation wending its way north. Weather Underground reports Isaac will likely sideswipe Tampa, resulting in only rain and temporary flooding, but with Monday's events cancelled and Governor Bobby Jindal back in NOLA, the festivities are off to a rocky start.
If Isaac doesn't make it rain, the GOP always has the option at local strip clubs. Republican Congressional Committee chairmen Pete Sessions warned Republicans in Washington: "Let's say you are going to have a cup of coffee. Perhaps, it's a late night cup of coffee. Be careful." This coming from a man whose PAC spent $5,000 at Las Vegas' Forty Deuce in 2008. Sessions argues it was a "burlesque" club.
DEMOCRATS: Occupy protests.
Staging your convention at "Wall Street South" might seem like a good idea—ritzy lodgings, monied supporters—until Occupy Wall Street, South, turns up. Occupy Charlotte promises a non-violent protest, and city officials are doing their best to forestall any tent cities or "noxious substances" (does that include pepper spray?).
WINNER: The strippers. Particularly Lisa Ann, the star of Hustler's Nailin' Paylin', who will be dancing at Thee Dollhouse (that's on North Westshore Boulevard, gents).
—Jon Roth (@jonmroth), editorial assistant at Details