Political season: Locals head to conventions

In between interviews, the Center for Politics’ Tim Robinson, Larry Sabato and Geoffrey Skelley snap a photo from the convention floor in Cleveland.
Courtesy Geoffrey Skelley In between interviews, the Center for Politics’ Tim Robinson, Larry Sabato and Geoffrey Skelley snap a photo from the convention floor in Cleveland. Courtesy Geoffrey Skelley


While most of us followed last week’s Republican shindig in Cleveland on TV, several locals were there on the ground. And Charlottesville sent four people to Philadelphia as delegates for the Democratic convention this week.

UVA had a major presence in Cleveland with political pundit Larry Sabato and his Crystal Ball team from the Center for Politics on hand. The Miller Center, which specializes in presidential studies, sent Barbara Perry, co-chair of the Presidential Oral History Program, and assistant prof Nicole Hemmer. Even UVA Today had a rep there—videographer Mitch Powers recorded the UVA experts behind the scenes.

The Crystal Ball team live tweeted the convention and provided real-time analysis, as well as interviews for the 15,000 credentialed press, whose numbers far exceeded the 2,470 delegates and 2,300 alternates. Sabato seemed to do nonstop interviews, judging from his Twitter feed.

Among the notable moments: former attorney general/Ted Cruz supporter Ken Cuccinelli throwing his credentials on the floor. “It was a moment that showed the divisions in the Republican party,” says the Center for Politics’ Geoffrey Skelley.

Charlottesville native Gray Delany was there working with the Republican National Convention caucus operations, and he witnessed those divisions firsthand. Delany had been campaign manager for 5th District candidate Michael Del Rosso’s unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination, and a high point for Delany was seeing Del Rosso at the convention talking to caucuses as a vetted RNC speaker.

The Virginia delegation “went rogue all week,” says Delany. “They were horrible.” Cuccinelli, he says, “burned a lot of bridges. The takeaway: He’s done.”

Charlottesville School Board Chair Amy Laufer is a Clinton delegate. She works with Women Leaders of Virginia, and thought, “Heck, I don’t have to just work on the state level. I can go to this historic event and see Hillary nominated.”

Former Newsplex anchor Bob Beard is an alternate delegate, and he, too, “thought it would be fun to experience this historical event,” he says. After years of working in the news business and having to be objective, he says, “Now I have a chance to be a citizen, not an observer.”

Beard spoke with C-VILLE before Clinton announced Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her vice presidential pick, but he already was reading the tea leaves from hotel bookings, and noted the Virginia delegation was staying in the same hotel as the New York caucus.

Kimberly Stevens and Nic McCarty crowd-sourced their trip to Philadelphia as Bernie Sanders delegates, and they were not ready to fall in behind Clinton when they spoke to C-VILLE before the convention. “We are very passionate about electing Bernie Sanders as our next president,” says Stevens. “And we’re very concerned about Hillary Clinton’s numbers polling against Trump.”

McCarthy was eager to push for issues on the Democratic platform that are popular with Sanders supporters, such as campaign finance reform.

But unlike the Republican convention, says Stevens, “At this time there are no plans for a revolt.”

All of the Charlottesville Dem contingent are first-timers to a national convention, and Skelley, a veteran, advises them to wander around as much as possible. While the Cleveland convention was downtown, the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia “is a little more isolated, and probably will have a different vibe,” he says.

“Take in all the sights and sounds,” he says. “You’ll see some crazy stuff, bizarre things.” And where else will you find a Donald Trump whoopee cushion?