WASHINGTON – Coming out swinging with a focused, unwavering message and political star power, Republicans bested the Democratic National Convention (search) in many ways, say media experts, and by following on the heels of the Boston event, were able to draw sharp contrasts between the two parties' candidates and tone of their speeches.
"This is my 10th convention -- and this is certainly the best convention of either party that I have ever seen since the Republican convention in 1984," declared James Pinkerton (search), Newsday columnist and "FOX News Watch" media analyst.
"They have a good lineup, they have good speakers, and for whatever reason, most of the stars here are Republicans," Pinkerton said, referring to the likes of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (search) and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), and not outside celebrities drawing attention from the dias.
But David Corn (search), Washington editor for "The Nation" magazine, said the thing he noticed was all of the empty seats in Madison Square Garden during this week's main events.
"I've been going to conventions for 20 years and I'm surprised, I've never seen so many empty seats, which I find quite unusual," he said, noting there seems to be "less of an artificial effort" to build up the minority presence in the convention, whether it be in the audience or on the stage.
On the other hand, journalists said Thursday that the unprecedented security and smaller grassroots presence resulted in an obvious lack of spontaneity, and fewer rallies around the issues among the delegates.
"The Democratic convention seemed like much more of a working convention -- there were daily caucuses on the issues," said John Mariani, political reporter for The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y.
"There have been caucus-like events here, usually off-campus, if you will, in a university or something, but the Democrats really seemed to be working hard toward educating their delegates and I think that has something to do with the composition of the delegations."
He said the New York delegation at the Republican convention is made up of a lot of party officials, either from the state or county levels, as well as candidates. "They are at different levels, a little farther from the grassroots level, and hand-selected by the White House," said Mariani.
Tom Wrobleski, writer for the Staten Island Advance said that delegates who spoke with him said barring a big Bush splash Thursday night, they were still waiting for "that kind of buzz, or kind of juice, the really transcendent speech," at the Republican confab.
"People were talking about Zell Miller's speech, but I'm not sure that's going to endure, partly because it was so partisan. It was aimed at one guy," he said. "No one has had that kind of edifying, national moment."
Mariani said both parties were preaching to their respective choirs -- the Democrats with a social agenda targeting the economy, the Republicans with strong national security, or as it's being called, "the war, stupid."
Also, Democrats "very deliberately, tried to muffle attacks on the president, I suspect, in an effort to take the high ground," Mariani said.
Former presidential candidate and political analyst Pat Buchanan said that this is something Democrats are likely regretting.
"Republicans have taken their opportunity to really skewer Kerry at their convention in a way that the Democrats did not at their convention, and I think the Democrats are probably feeling right now that they should not have not handled him with kid gloves," Buchanan said, noting the Democrats are probably saying, "We were sweet, and we were had."
Corn said that even the "moderate" messengers were hawkish and on attack-duty this week.
"What I find interesting, all the moderate faces … all these people came out and didn’t talk about what makes them different. They talked about the war., the whole theme has been 'It’s the war stupid,'" Corn said.
Meanwhile, New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove said he was struck by the level of discipline in terms of the organization of the event and the message.
"They are very much better organized, more disciplined, very well executed," Grove said. "Which is the eternal difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. For Democrats, it's always a floating crap game. For Republicans, they have had a long institutional vision of how to do things."
Outside the message, analysts noticed other differences. Carl East, assistant program director for News Talk 1100 WBT in Charlotte, N.C., said logistical differences were apparent, and from his perspective on "Radio Row," the Republican National Convention was providing better digs.
"In the Fleet Center, talk show row was located down a hallway that was located on a linoleum floor so it was a little noisier, a little less comfortable," he said. "Where here, on the lobby level of the Madison Square Garden , there are partitions for the broadcast booths. From a logistics perspective, the Garden is superior, just from the way they’ve set things up."
But, he added, "From a security standpoint, it is more of a hassle here at the Garden, but waiting in line isn't taking any longer, necessarily, but we're checked more frequently. Once we get through the first checkpoint, we've got to go through several other checkpoints. Even if we just go down a hall, we got someone else we've got to show our badge to."
As for access to the hotshots and potential radio guests milling about Radio Row, East said, "Both the DNC staffers and the RNC staffers worked very hard at providing their top people," he said. "The bigger the name, the harder they were to get."