When the Democratic National Convention starts Tuesday in Charlotte, NC, Democrats will have their chance to tell their story to the country and explain why they think President Barack Obama is still the best choice come November.
The convention opens only , with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leading the Republican ticket and . With Ryan on the ballot for two offices — he's also running to retain his seat to represent the 1st Congressional District — and Gov. Scott Walker a featured speaker, the Republican convention perhaps should have been held at Lambeau Field.
Despite not having a Cheesehead on the ticket, the Badger State will be well-represented in Charlotte by a solid group of delegates and a scheduled speech Thursday by U.S. Rep. and Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin.
A stark choice of two paths
With Ryan on the Republican ticket, there is an even sharper definition of the differences between the candidates, said Mike Tate, chair of the state Democratic Party.
"There is a stark choice facing Americans," said Tate. "Are we going to choose a path where we invest in the middle class and education, or do we want to continue lowering taxes for the very wealthiest citizens and raising taxes on the middle class?"
This will be Tate's fourth convention, and he said the difference between 2012 and 2008 is that the stakes are higher now.
"The Romney/Ryan ticket is the wrong path for the country, and this convention is a great way to talk about the differences in the president's ideas and where to take the country," Tate added.
Sachin Chheda, chair of the Milwaukee County Democrats, has been an active Democrat for years, but is headed to his first convention this year.
He said he is enthusiastic, especially after seeing Paul Ryan “deliver lie after lie” and watching Clint Eastwood’s “strange artistic monologue.”
“We’re very excited,” he said. “This week was more energizing because we saw what we’re up against and what they’re willing to do. We have a positive story to tell, and we’re going to talk about our record on jobs, health care and civil rights. We think we’re going to have a huge bump coming out of the convention.”
Making history again
Members of the Wisconsin delegation are also excited about making history again by nominating Obama for a second term.
Meg Andrietsch, secretary of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said 2008 was going to be historic no matter what. They were either going to nominate the female candidate for president — Hillary Clinton — or the first person of color.
"What we did four years ago, nominating a person of color, was historic," said Andrietsch. "And now we get to make history again by nominating the first African American president for a second term."
"Nominating the first African American president was exciting," he said. "And now we get to nominate that president for a second term and give people a chance to hear the nominees tell their story to the country."
Kenosha businessman Rob Zerban is attending as both a delegate and congressional candidate running again Ryan in the 1st District. This is his first convention, and he's not sure what to expect, other than he will be busy.
"My schedule will be full of caucuses and meetings," he said. "I'm most looking forward to being on the convention floor and nominating Barack Obama to remain the president of the United States."
Gerard Maciejewski, a Glendale resident who has worked as a field construction boilermaker for 33 years, said he has been to Washington, D.C., on behalf of his local union, but he has never been to a national convention before.
He said he’s looking forward to the experience.
“From my experiences in Washington, the idea of meeting President Obama or President Clinton would be as exciting as meeting someone like Brett Favre,” he said.
He said the issues he cares most about are access to health care, a strong education system and moving the country forward in a bipartisan manner.
“I’m going with an open heart and open mind, and to do what I think is best for future of my children and grandchildren,” he said. “I’d like to see the future of the United States pushing forward in a positive direction.”
Are conventions still relevant?
A recent commentary by Scott Rasmussen of Rasmussen Reports called into question whether or not conventions are necessary since the primaries decide the nominees weeks ahead of time. He cites the lack of interest in the conventions among the general public and the enormous price tag as two additional reasons for question their existance.
"The reason for the declining interest is simple. Conventions used to matter. They actually decided something," he writes. "Now primaries select the major party nominees. The conventions are just a relic to confirm what has already been decided."
Andrietsch thinks conventions still have their place on the political scene.
"Sure, we could do this electronically, but there is still something to be said about the personal connections," Andrietsch said. "It helps to get together because there's energy, and the media coverage allows citizens to be part of it, so it's more inclusive rather than exclusive."
Tate agreed, saying Americans are more polarized than at any time he can remember so the conventions give people a chance to hear the stories of and from the candidates.
"I don't know if this election features the greatest difference between two candidates, but certainly it's the most polarized the country’s been that I can remember,” he said. “At no time in our history has an incumbent president been treated with such little respect and high disdain. It’s been a tough four years, and we’ve been through a lot so people are engaged more than ever before.”
Former Waukesha mayor and Waukesha County Board Supervisor Larry Nelson also thinks conventions have their place, especially with undecided voters. He's no stranger to Democratic conventions; this is his fifth one since 1984.
Nelson said he thinks the race will be hotly contested nationwide and in Wisconsin, and the conventions and debates are key in swaying undecided and independent voters.
After watching the Republican convention on television this week, Nelson said he thinks Democrats have the advantage of addressing claims made by Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney and other top Republicans.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some of the charges that don’t fit the facts rebutted at the Democratic convention,” he said. “I think there will be quite a contrast on some of the issues discussed at the Republican convention.”