Big money spent on both parties' conventions, but stage sets differ in style

Republicans and Democrats have poured millions into carefully crafting conventions that will drive home their campaign messages, while exciting their bases as they head into the general election. But the set and style at the two conventions are worlds apart – and each party puts its own “spin” on the other’s finished product.

Democrats have been known for jazzing up the party with star-studded entertainment lineups and splashy set designs. Republicans, while spending big this year on their own convention arena, are more traditional in their presentation. The focus this week was on the speakers, less on the bells and whistles.

“I think the personality of the candidates comes through in the different stages,” RNC convention spokesman Kyle Downey told “We’re not into flash. We’re into driving our message.

“President Obama is very charismatic – a lot of flash,” he said. “Let Obama and the Democrats have the flash. Let them have the charisma. We don’t care. This is a substance-driven campaign.”

Hogwash, claims Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, who noted Republicans “spent millions” on their 2012 convention set inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, a set that he called “the most elaborate and technologically advanced we’ve seen.”

Around $2.5 million was spent on the RNC convention stage alone, a party source with knowledge of the planning told Overall, the Tampa Bay Times Forum underwent a $20 million makeover, according to local media reports.

“It’s not your grandpa’s convention,” Downey said. “It’s very 21st century.”

Downey pointed to the 13 overlapping, high-definition LED screens on stage as a unique feature. The screens, which are framed in wood and which range in size from 9-by-9 feet to almost 29-by-12 feet, can transform the podium into a scene – like a factory floor or a Midwest farm – or a collage of family album photos, like those shown of the Romneys and their five sons during Ann Romney’s speech Monday night.

The intention, Republican convention organizers say, is to convey a certain level of warmth and intimacy inside the 19,500-seat arena, while also creating a “wow factor” that will impress with state-of-the-art technology.

“The concept behind it is to give the sense of a family room,” Downey said -- without appearing gaudy.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said the GOP aimed to “focus on the substance – not on the visuals of the stage.”

“The stage is very slick, with high-tech graphics,” Bonjean said of the set-up inside the Forum in Tampa. “There’s also a savvy simplicity to it.”

Bonjean contrasted that against Obama's nomination acceptance speech in Denver in 2008, where he was flanked by columns -- a visual Paul Ryan mocked in his convention speech Wednesday night.

The production at the Democratic National Convention inside Denver’s Invesco Field four years ago was impressive, with a futuristic stage designed by Bruce Rodgers, whose other clients include Madonna and the Dave Matthews Band. The set also included three 103-inch Panasonic Plasma HD screens.

This year, the DNC spent $7 million to transform the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., for the convention's central venue. Unlike the Republican’s production, the four-day Democratic convention has three official sites: the Time Warner Cable Arena, the Bank of America Stadium and the Charlotte Convention Center. It's unclear what it cost to upgrade all three.

Production details are not being released before the stage and podium are officially unveiled Friday, a DNC convention spokesman told On its website, the DNC boasts that the convention will be “the most open and accessible in history.”

Trippi contested the notion that Democrats go bigger in style than substance, saying each party strategically constructs a stage set to convey an “image” – whether it be “two million spent on neon lights that flash” or “two million on wood because you want to project warmth and simplicity.”

“You’re still blowing two million bucks to deliver an image,” he said.