The first televised network broadcast of a political convention dates back to 1952. Political party conventions, before the ad
Political party conventions, before the advent of television, used to be the deciding factors in who Republicans and Democrats would nominate to run for president. Now, the candidates are almost always decided before the week-long events take place.
Americans are used to watching over-the-top displays touting the party’s platform and a ballon-and-confetti-filled spectacle of nominating the party’s preferences for president and vice president, the 2020 conventions look quite different. The conventions were largely canceled for both parties due to the coronavirus pandemic, and they opted to be held virtually instead with live and pre-taped speeches and performances.
The first televised network broadcast of a political convention was in 1952, so here’s a look at the last 40 years of conventions with full nominating speeches from candidates including Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.
2016 – DONALD TRUMP vs. HILLARY CLINTON
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be nominated on a major party ticket for president competing alongside political outsider and businessman Donald Trump, who had never seriously run for office before. Clinton, sought to become the first female president and she touted her nearly 40-year experience in politics, while Trump brandished his credentials as a master dealmaker vowing to restore law and order on American streets. Trump used his coined nickname for Clinton: “Crooked Hillary,” as the former first lady was embroiled in a campaign scandal surrounding her private email server while she served as secretary of state. Meanwhile, some DNC delegates supporting her primary opponent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders booed her as she spoke on stage.
2012 – BARACK OBAMA vs. MITT ROMNEY
Mitt Romney, the former Republican Massachusetts governor, and now a senator from Utah, was taking on a one-term incumbent in Obama. He chose Paul Ryan as his running mate and the pair took the stage in Tampa, Fla. amid the looming threat of Hurricane Isaac, leading convention officials to change the schedule briefly. The RNC featured a moment possibly more memorable than Romney’s acceptance speech himself when the actor Clint Eastwood improvised and spoke to an empty chair on stage with him that acted as Obama in absentia. At the DNC, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden appeared together in Charlotte, N.C.
2008 – BARACK OBAMA vs. JOHN MCCAIN
Obama became the first African-American nominee of a major party when he accepted the nomination alongside his running mate Joe Biden. After a bruising primary battle against then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, she called for Obama to be selected by acclamation in a show of party unity on the convention floor. McCain at the RNC in St. Paul Minnesota appeared with his running mate, then Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who gave a rousing speech describing herself as a “hockey mom,” and described the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull was “lipstick,” appealing to everyday Americans.
2004 – GEORGE W. BUSH vs. JOHN KERRY
Amidst the backdrop of the first year of the war in Iraq, Vietnam veteran John Kerry highlighted his military service, criticizing his incumbent opponent’s handling of the “War on Terror.” Choosing North Carolina Senator John Edwards as his running mate, the ticket adopted the mantra: “Help is on the way!” But maybe even more attention-grabbing was the young, newly-elected senator from Illinois who gave the keynote address, marking his first-ever convention appearance — Barack Obama. At the RNC, events took place in New York City weeks before the three-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, where George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney accepted the nomination for their party.
2000 – GEORGE W. BUSH vs. AL GORE
Then Vice President Al Gore with his running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, took the stage in Los Angeles. Other than the speeches, the most memorable moment was Gore’s long, drawn-out smooch on the lips and subsequent bear hug with his then-wife, Tipper Gore. At the RNC, George W. Bush was seeking the Republican nomination for president, like his father eight years prior. Bush, who was governor of Texas at the time, fought off a strong primary challenger in John McCain to win the nomination. Bush picked his father’s former Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney as his vice-presidential running mate.
1996- BILL CLINTON vs. BOB DOLE
War hero and Kansas senator, Bob Dole, chose former New York Rep. Jack Kemp as his running mate heading to San Diego to accept the Republican Party’s nomination. After a bitter primary with Pat Buchanan, who refused to endorse Dole in San Diego, Dole tried to unite the party with several moderate Republicans who were given speaking slots. Then-Rep. Susan Molinari spoke at the event, but this year she took the Democrats’ lead and endorsed nominee Joe Biden in a display of relinquishing support of President Donald Trump. At the DNC, incumbent Bill Clinton joined with his Vice President Al Gore in Chicago, the first convention held there since the 1968 riots at the DNC. In a fun, lighthearted moment, the song Macarena played on the loudspeakers to party supporters and First Lady Hillary Clinton danced along to the new pop song sensation at the time.
1992 – GEORGE H.W. BUSH vs. BILL CLINTON
Incumbent president George H.W. Bush and his running mate Vice President Dan Quayle were trying to head off a Democratic powerhouse in presidential newcomer Bill Clinton and his running mate then-Sen. Al Gore, from Tennessee. Both tickets had to contend with an independent candidate in Ross Perot, much to the later detriment of Bush’s chances of re-election. He lost to Clinton in 1992, according to historians, because Perot siphoned off a large percentage of Bush’s coalition. The economy was in recession at the time and at the Republican convention in Houston, critics say many leading conservatives praised the outgoing Reagan and Bush’s international bona fides, while not giving equal attention to the domestic crises at home.
1988 – GEORGE H.W. BUSH vs MICHAEL DUKAKIS
At the Democratic convention in Atlanta, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and his running mate Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen accepted the party’s nomination. The keynote speech was delivered by Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who famously said George H.W. Bush was born “with a silver spoon in his mouth.” Dukakis also had to ward off a primary challenge by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was vying to be the party’s first African American presidential nominee. At the Republican convention, Bush and then-Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, accepted the nomination in New Orleans. Famously, Bush gave his “thousand points of light” speech in which he told the audience “Read my lips: no new taxes,” a campaign promise Bush would later break, once elected.
1984 – RONALD REAGAN vs. WALTER MONDALE
At the Democratic convention in San Francisco, former Vice President Walter Mondale made a historic first, picking the first female running mate on any major party ticket, then-New York Rep. Geraldine Ferraro. Giving the highly coveted keynote speech was New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. Mondale beat Colorado Sen. Gary Hart in the primary to clinch the nomination. The Republican convention that year was held in Dallas with Reagan and Bush accepting the nomination. The convention had a final address from former Republican nominee Barry Goldwater, who had 20 years earlier, accepted the nomination for president, ushering in a new era for the Republican party. Reagan was the presumptive heir to Goldwater’s legacy, according to historians. The singer Lee Greenwood also sang his patriotic hit, “God Bless the USA,” which had been released the previous year.
1980 – RONALD REAGAN vs. JIMMY CARTER
The Republican convention was held in Detroit where Gov. Ronald Reagan, of California, and then Texas Rep. George H.W. Bush accepted the party’s nomination. Bush and Reagan competed for the top prize in the primary race. Reagan picked Bush as his running mate as he took the podium to give his convention acceptance speech, a rarity at the time, but it quelled rumors it could be former President Gerald Ford. At the Democratic convention, incumbent Jimmy Carter and his Vice President Walter Mondale accepted the nomination in New York City. Carter faced a challenge to the nomination however in Sen. Ted Kennedy who was vying for the top spot. Kennedy gave a famous speech from the podium declaring: “For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” Kennedy was unsuccessful in trying to wrest delegates away from Carter.