The DNC Survival Guide

How to outwit, outplay, and outlast the horde of politicians, newscasters, and protesters at this month's red, white, and blue bash.

August 2008

For more coverage of this month's Democratic National Convention in Denver, click here to visit the DNC Daily.

So you're a little afraid of the Democratic National Convention. It's understandable, because who knows what kind of havoc tens of thousands of boisterous, garishly clad political junkies, rabble-rousing protesters, and wonky media types might wreak on our fair city?

Fret not. We'll explain why the Dems are gracing us with their presence—and why you should welcome them. We'll show you how to get to your downtown office without getting a pat-down from the Secret Service, where to get a dinner reservation, and how the police plan to corral the protesters. We'll tell you about the $150 million the Democrats are supposedly sprinkling around the state, spin a tale about a convention of yore, and break down the difference between the DNC and the RNC. And, oh yeah—we've also got some background on that Obama guy everyone seems so excited about. It's everything you need to revel in the pomp or retreat from the chaos. Choose wisely.

  • Feelin' Blue: Why the Rocky Mountain states are so pivotal in 2008.
  • The More Things Change: The 1908 Convention versus this year.
  • East Meets West: The New York Times on Denver in 1908.
  • Lunch Money: What will the convention do to Denver restaurants?
  • Hike or Seek: The restaurants to hit—and avoid.
  • They say they want a revolution: Protest groups to watch.
  • Critical Situation: Q& A with CNN Veteran Wolf Blitzer.
  • The Insiders: Colorado politicians share their favorite local spots
  • The Making of a Candidate: Barack Obama

Feelin' Blue

Why the Rocky Mountain states may be more pivotal in 2008 than Ohio or Florida.
Patrick Doyle

Republican presidential candidates have had a stranglehold on the Rocky Mountain West for most of the past half-century. The two times Democrats actually won Colorado were outright flukes: 1964, when Barry Goldwater's new brand of conservatism failed spectacularly, and 1992, when the maverick Ross Perot kneecapped George H.W. Bush's reelection chances. The GOP's perpetual dominance isn't surprising, considering that the Rocky Mountain region was settled largely by rugged, independent ranchers and miners—the kind of people who not so long ago were known as Republicans.

But over the past few election cycles, Western voters have taken a few giant, if unanticipated, steps leftward. Independents and Libertarians have tired of evangelicals' hyper-conservative grip on the GOP, along with the party's abandonment of budget-balancing, smaller government principles. This group—combined with liberal transplants from the coasts and Hispanics agitated by the anti-immigration right—has pushed the Rocky Mountain West toward the center for the first time ever.

Consider: In the past four years, the Colorado Democratic party has wrested control of the Statehouse, the governor's mansion, and the majority of our U.S. congressional delegation. Meanwhile, Democrats have racked up victories in other onetime Republican strongholds like Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico. The enthusiasm doesn't seem to be waning: On Super Tuesday, nearly 120,000 Colorado Democrats showed up at the caucuses, almost twice the level of Republican participation and eight times the 2004 Democratic turnout. Since February, Barack Obama has doubled Republican opponent John McCain's fund-raising results in Colorado, and according to recent polls Obama holds narrow leads in Colorado and New Mexico and is gaining ground in Nevada. This year, if a few of these states vote Democrat, it won't be a fluke. So move over Florida and Ohio, the Western swing states are itchin' to dance.

The More Things Change

How Denver's 1908 Democratic Convention mirrored this year's version.
By Natasha Gardner

Just as they would a century later, Democrats had two goals in July 1908: take back the Oval Office, and party in the mountains. Back then the country was still reeling from the Panic of 1907, and after 12 years of a Republican-controlled Washington, the Dems hoped the nation was ready for change. In hosting the convention, Denver simply wanted to put itself on the political map. Sound familiar?

Back then, Denver delivered the Democrats a brand-new auditorium and $100,000 in cash. The city erected a $25,000 welcome arch near Union Station, built a fountain in City Park, finished construction on the Capitol building, and hauled in wagonloads of snow from the mountains for the visitors to play in (resulting in more than 20 arrests after barefoot street urchins engaged a group of delegates in a snowball fight run amok). Convention activities were housed in the new Denver Municipal Auditorium (now the Ellie Caulkins Opera House), a 4.5 million-square-foot space festooned with 30,000 yards of bunting, more than 1,000 flags, and 15 stuffed eagles.

Inside, a cowboy band entertained the conventioneers between party speeches and platform debates. The party's nomination of William Jennings Bryan was a foregone conclusion, and he didn't even bother to show up. (Note to Obama: Don't try that this year.) At week's end, the Chicago Tribune gave Denver an "O.K." stamp.

The sense of triumph wouldn't last. In November, Bryan became a three-time presidential loser when Republican William Howard Taft nearly doubled his electoral vote tally, and Denver retreated into political obscurity. Here's hoping 2008 treats the city a bit more kindly.

East Meets West

What the New York Times had to say about Denver in 1908.

"At 8 this evening a soft twilight is still lingering over the city, with the sky a deep orange over the crest of the Rockies.... The distant crests of the Rocky Mountain peaks, white with eternal snows, have been the cynosure of Eastern eyes during these convention days, and many of the active political workers have regretted the fact that their duties kept them within sight but out of reach of the cool delights of those white pinnacles."

"State Senator Thomas Grady of New York, standing on the sidewalk in front of the Brown Hotel today, leaning far back and puffing hard at a cigar, delivered himself as follows: 'From what I have observed since I came here some days ago, I am convinced that there are to be more bandits than honest men at this convention. And...I am shaping my course so as to be with the majority.'"

"Although all the New York papers have carried stories to the effect that it is not wise to drink too deeply of the cup that cheers and sometimes inebriates in this high altitude, the delegates that have arrived so far do not believe it. Consequently one of the first things many of them do is to put the question to a test. No complaint has been heard so far from the saloon and café keepers."

Lunch Money

Will the convention bring a sumptuous feast or indigestion to Denver restaurants?
By Amanda M. Faison

When city officials released reports in early 2007 and June 2008 estimating that the Democratic National Convention will bring 50,000 people to Denver and pump $160 million* into the local economy, giddiness swept through the hospitality industry—especially the restaurant biz. Visions danced in restaurateurs' heads of Barack dining on Colorado lamb and Hillary looking up from her buffalo burger to wave to passersby.

The truth is, that nice shot in the economic arm might end up looking more like a clipped wing. Local merchants are worried that many Denver residents who either live or work downtown will simply stay away. If even a small percentage of downtown's 62,000 residents or 110,000 employees take vacations or work from home that week, some restaurants and retailers, especially the mom and pops, could find out that the anticipated windfall is just hype. "The big guys will be busy," says Pete Meersman, president and CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association. "It's the smaller guys who aren't being booked for private parties that we're worried about."

Though the city has hosted conventions with this many visitors before, the events haven't included the heavy security, media scrutiny, or overall congestion anticipated this time, and Denver merchants don't know what to expect. Local restaurants have been looking at the past examples of 2004 convention hosts Boston and New York and tempering their expectations. A recent study reported that during the 2004 Democratic convention, more than 30 percent of Boston's downtown workforce didn't report to the office that week—which translated into a loss of $8.5 million in regular commuter money (as in daily venti lattes, lunchtime meals, and parking fees).

August is a typically slow month for downtown restaurants, so the convention should provide at least some uptick in business. And with DNC activities wrapping up around 9 p.m. because of television and time zones, visitors will still be able to dine out or grab a beer before the private parties begin. Or, if the restaurants sit empty, the staffs will have plenty of time to drown their sorrows.

*Is that $160 million realistic, or PR spin? The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Massachusetts studied the 2004 conventions in New York and Boston and found some disturbing trends: Projections for the Republican National Convention in New York were off by $163 million. And in Boston, after adjusting for lost work, tourism, and other factors, the city only netted $14.8 million, a far cry from the $154 million that Boston city officials had projected.

Whether you want to gawk at the Democratic powerhouses or flee anyone with an Obama sticker and a funny hat, here are the restaurants to hit—or avoid.
By Amanda M. Faison

Seek: Dine at Duo Restaurant on any given night and you might be seated next to Tom and Beth Strickland, Will Coyne (chief of staff for the House Democrats), members of the Coors family, or former mayor Federico Peña. (2413 W. 32nd Ave., 303-477-4141)
Hide: On the other side of town, Tables is a neighborhood spot far from the DNC epicenter. Savor the silence over a glass of vino and the signature tuna tartare. (2267 Kearney St., 303-388-0299)

Seek: Parallel 17, Uptown's modern Vietnamese restaurant, is a hotspot for both savory oxtail pho and celeb spotting. Keep an eye out for Mayor John Hickenlooper, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, even musicians like the Fray or hockey players Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg. (1600 E. 17th Ave., 303-399-0988)
Hide: New Saigon Restaurant is far enough from the Pepsi Center that hungry diners won't be hindered by road closures or Secret Service setups. That's good news: You'll need your full attention for the 24-page menu. (630 S. Federal Blvd., 303-936-4954)

Seek: Pop into Racines for breakfast or lunch and you'll break bread next to the likes of the mayor, DeGette, Governor Bill Ritter, Congressman Mark Udall, Senator Ken Salazar, or DNC host committee president Elbra Wedgeworth. (650 Sherman St., 303-595-0418)
Hide: Take a break from convention craziness at Lucile's. The Southern vibe, pipin' hot beignets, and strong chicory coffee will whisk away any thought of the delegate count. (275 S. Logan St., 303-282-6258)

Uptown Eats
Seek: Is it any wonder that philanthropic powerhouse Noel Cunningham, owner of Strings Restaurant, brings in the big names? Keep an eye out for former President Bill Clinton, Governor Ritter, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, former Congressman Bob Beauprez, and former mayors Peña and Wellington Webb. (1700 Humboldt St., 303-831-7310)
Hide: What better way to steal away than to enjoy dinner and a movie at Neighborhood Flix Cinema and Café? And does it really matter which movie is playing when you get to sit in the calming darkness and munch on sesame-ginger sweet potato fries? (2510 E. Colfax Ave., 303-777-3549)

Seek: Mezcal's prime location across from the Bluebird Theater ensures that partygoers and local names like Hizzoner Hick (who reportedly likes the potent margaritas) will stop by for the tamales and fish tacos. (3230 E. Colfax Ave., 303-322-5219)
Hide: We plan on hunkering down at Brewery Bar II—not just to enjoy the joint's fiery green chili, but also to revel in the locals-only, dive-bar clientele. (150 Kalamath St., 303-893-0971)

They Say They Want a Revolution

Although DNC organizers want to prevent a repeat of Chicago '68 or even Boston '04, protest groups still will be out in force. Here are a few to keep an eye on.

Estimated protesters expected in Denver: Several hundred
Causes: End the Iraq war and prevent new ones, restore civil liberties, combine the peace movement and green movement.
Plans: On Sunday, August 24, a parade of political theater, stilt performers, bands, cheerleaders, floats, and hundreds of people (mostly women) will fill the streets of downtown Denver.

Re-create '68 Alliance
Estimated protesters expected in Denver: Several hundred
Cause: To move Democrats in a more progressive direction.
Plans: Up in the air. As of press time, numerous activists had split from the group due to its inflammatory public statements and refusal to officially endorse nonviolent protests during DNC week.

Tent State University
Estimated protesters expected in Denver: Several thousand
Causes: End the Iraq war, address the climate crisis, and revitalize the youth-led movement.
Plans: Pitching tents in City Park and hosting activists, free concerts, and offering classes in anti-war tactics and nonviolent, direct-action protest techniques.

Unconventional Denver
Estimated protesters expected in Denver: Several hundred
Causes: End capitalism and increase community control over safety issues.
Plans: Take "direct action against injustices and issues that the community faces" to show what Unconventional Denver is opposed to and working toward.

Critical Situation

CNN veteran Wolf Blitzer's inside tips on what to expect from the DNC.
By Luc Hatlestad

What will downtown look like during the convention? Get ready. The Democrats are going to be really pumped. You've seen what Obama has done across the country. He's got that rock star status, so I'm sure that will spill over into Denver. About 20,000 people can get into the arena there, and there will be about 200,000 that would like to get in.

What happens to those who can't? The organizers need a plan to move traffic around town. I was at the NBA All-Star weekend in Denver, and it's sort of like that. You get a lot of people who don't have tickets but think it's a happening place to be and hang out, so they just come into town from all over.

Will CNN be doing anything special that week? At the last GOP convention in New York, we rented out a diner across from Madison Square Garden, and we did some of my daytime shows from there. We had politicians and others coming in and sitting at the tables and talking about the event. We're going to do something similar in Denver.

Do you expect to see many demonstrations? If there would have been a big floor fight with Clinton's supporters, there would've been a greater possibility for demonstrations. I do think you'll see more in St. Paul, if only because Ron Paul and his supporters are very active and passionate. I could be wrong, but by the time the convention comes along the party should be pretty united.

Urban Planning

This year, Democrats and Republicans shunned established convention cities like New York and Chicago and opted to throw their parties in key battleground states. Here's how the dark horses measure up.

  Denver Minneapolis–St. Paul    
Party Democrats Republicans    
Dates August 25–28 September 1–4    
City population 588,349 674,590    
Expected visitors 50,000 45,000    
City chosen over New York New York, Cleveland, Tampa-St. Petersburg    
Last time city held party’s convention 1908 1892    
Last time party won that state 1992 1972    
State’s electoral votes 9 10    
2004 election results Bush 52; Kerry 47 Kerry 51; Bush 48    
Latest state poll of general election Obama 43; McCain 41 (Rasmussen, 6/19) Obama 52; McCain 39 (Rasmussen, 6/13)    
Suggested souvenir Organic pink baseball cap Red and white Zubaz pants  

The Insiders

Colorado politicians share their favorite local spots

Diana DeGette, Colorado Congresswoman
Best Diner: Pete's Kitchen "Pete's Kitchen is the biggest, most awesome breakfast spot in Denver, great after a night on the town or after church on Sunday." 1962 E. Colfax Ave., 303-321-3139, www.petesrestaurantstoo.com

Mark Udall, Colorado Congressman and candidate for U.S. Sentate
Cowboy Gear: Sheplers Western Wear "Sheplers is the original Western outfitter. It has everything you need." 8500 E. Orchard Road, Greenwood Village, 303-773-3311, www.sheplers.com

Leah Daughtry, Democratic National Convention CEO
Denver House of Worship: Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church and Congregation Emanuel (Tie) "Campbell just feels like home. And Congregation Emanuel is furnished with the only Judaica that survived the Holocaust." Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church, 1500 E. 22nd Ave, 303-839-5058; Congregation Emanuel, 51 Grape St., 303-321-7158.

John Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor
Denver House of Worship Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church and Congregation Emanuel (Tie) "Campbell just feels like home. And Congregation Emanuel is furnished with the only Judaica that survived the Holocaust." Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church, 1500 E. 22nd Ave, 303-839-5058; Congregation Emanuel, 51 Grape St., 303-321-7158.

The Making of a Candidate

Barack Obama's road from obscurity to Denver.

  • August 4, 1961 Barack Hussein Obama Jr. is born in Hawaii. His parents separate when he is two years old, and his father, an economist from Kenya, eventually returns to Africa.
  • 1967 Moves to Jakarta, Indonesia, with his mother and stepfather. He attends school there until he is 10 years old.
  • 1971 Returns to Hawaii to attend Punahou, a private prep school.
  • 1979 Enrolls at Occidental College in Los Angeles; transfers to Columbia University two years later.
  • 1983 After graduating from Columbia with a major in political science (and a focus in international relations), he makes less than $10,000 a year working with student volunteers in Harlem.
  • 1985 Moves to Chicago and works full-time for Developing Communities Project, a church-based organization that encourages inner-city neighborhood development.
  • 1988 Enrolls at Harvard Law School, where he becomes the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.
  • 1991 Graduates magna cum laude from Harvard and returns to Chicago.
  • October 18, 1992 Marries Michelle Robinson, a fellow attorney, at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Reverend Jeremiah Wright—whose controversial behavior would cause problems for Obama's campaign in 2008—performs the ceremony.
  • 1993 While working as an associate at the law firm Miner, Barnhill, and Galland, Obama begins teaching at the University of Chicago Law School.
  • July 18, 1995 Publishes Dreams From My Father, his first book.
  • 996 Wins the state senate seat for the Illinois 13th district, which includes Chicago's south-side Hyde Park neighborhood.
  • 1999 The Obamas' first child, daughter Malia, is born.
  • March 21, 2000 Obama loses U.S. House Democratic primary to incumbent Bobby L. Rush.
  • 2001 His second daughter, Natasha (known as Sasha), is born.
  • March 16, 2004 Obama wins the Illinois Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, besting the seven-candidate field.
  • July 27, 2004 Tapped to deliver the keynote address at the 2004 convention, Obama catapults to national fame. When asked why he was chosen to give the speech, a John Kerry spokesperson says, "He represents the future of the party."
  • November 2, 2004 Obama trounces his opponent and secures a U.S. Senate seat.
  • October 17, 2006 Obama's second book, The Audacity of Hope, an elaboration of his DNC speech, lands in bookstores. Less than a month later, it is number one on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.
  • February 10, 2007 Obama announces his candidacy for the 2008 presidential race.
  • December 8, 2007 Longtime friend Oprah Winfrey hits the campaign trail with the Obamas. It is the media magnate's first public endorsement of a presidential candidate.
  • January 3, 2008 With record turnout at the Iowa caucuses, Obama wins the first state to vote.
  • January 26, 2008 After losses in the New Hampshire and Nevada primaries, Obama routs Hillary Clinton in South Carolina.
  • January 30, 2008 13,000 people crowd inside Magness Arena at the University of Denver to hear Obama speak.
  • February 5, 2008 Super Tuesday proves to be a virtual draw. Obama wins more contests—13 states, including Colorado—but Clinton wins key states with higher delegate counts.
  • February 10, 2008 Obama nabs a spoken-word Grammy for the audio version of The Audacity of Hope, beating out Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Maya Angelou, and Alan Alda.
  • March 18, 2008 Controversial statements and sermons made by Reverend Wright surface, prompting Obama to deliver his "A More Perfect Union" speech in Pennsylvania, denouncing Wright's comments and addressing race issues in America.
  • May 18, 2008 More than 75,000 people gather in Waterfront Park in Portland, Oregon, to hear Obama speak, his largest crowd to date.
  • June 3, 2008 Victory in Montana pushes Obama past 2,118 delegates. Within days, Clinton concedes.