Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Political conventions are primarily a vehicle to galvanize the party faithful to get out the vote for their current candidate.
But they are also an opportunity to start searching for the party’s future leaders.
Eight years ago, the country inadvertently witnessed the birth of a president when Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Now, Democrats are holding open auditions for an heir apparent to Obama.
So far, however, there’s little consensus as to who should emerge as the president's successor.
Here’s a sampling of the suggestions from Nevada’s delegates:
“I liked (San Antonio Mayor) Julian Castro. I think a lot of people did. He had passion,” said Linda Cavazos, a Nevada delegate from Henderson. “To me, it’s very important that a candidate represent the core values and morals of the Democratic Party.”
“Martin O’Malley, the governor of Maryland, was amazing,” said Simone Simpson, a Nevada delegate from Las Vegas. “I liked (Newark Mayor) Cory Booker too, and (Massachusetts Gov.) Deval Patrick — I think I’m going to see the three of them running for president.”
“You might want to keep an eye on this guy,” said Assemblyman David Bobzien, a delegate from Reno, pointing out Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer at a Nevada breakfast, later adding: “I’m excited to know there’s going to be a Westerner in the mix.”
“I wish Michelle (Obama) was running,” said Jennifer Reed, a Nevada delegate from Las Vegas.
And that’s just the reactions to the new faces who crossed the stage in Charlotte, N.C.
Others in the party are looking to the older generation as the next one — especially lingering fans of Hillary Clinton.
“If Hillary has the desire to run, Hillary would get elected,” said John Wanderer, a delegate from Las Vegas. “I don’t think there’s any organized effort in the Democratic Party to come up with a successor.”
“I think Hillary might take another try at it,” said Dorie Guy, an alternate delegate from Reno. “And we still have Joe Biden. I realize he’s getting up there in years, but I just adore him.”
It’s a whole lot of cacophony for a party that is all but unequivocally united around Obama for the current election.
But the party’s singular focus on Obama is precisely why no one can agree on what comes next.
“Assuming Obama wins, this becomes a very pertinent question in about two years,” said Peter Hanson, who teaches political science at the University of Denver in Colorado. “I don’t think there is a plan by Dems to choose Obama’s successor. It’s way too early for that.”
Still, the march of fresh candidates in Charlotte suggests that the “job interview” is well under way, and that even Obama is playing a role in it.
The Obamas appear to have their favorites. Julian Castro was not only the keynote speaker opening night, he and his twin brother, Joaquin, were also the only featured speakers invited to watch Wednesday night’s proceedings from the Obamas’ box. They sat beside the first lady.
“In some ways you could even say that Obama was trying to float people from his network as a way of establishing his legacy within the party,” said Chris Arterton, a professor of political psychology at George Washington University.
Obama clearly seems intent on promoting the country’s diversity — and that of the Democratic Party — through that legacy.
Obama broke the color barrier in presidential politics, and now, both parties are moving to continue with that tide, promoting a next generation of black, Hispanic and female candidates at their conventions.
There’s a clear demand coming from their members to do so.
“I’m hoping for a viable woman or a viable Latino candidate,” said Nevada delegate Sandra Eddy of Las Vegas. “I think that people of color, and from different ethnic groups, normally think more fairly across the board.”
“I would like to have a woman president, too,” said 22-year-old Malyssa Essex of Las Vegas, one of the youngest Nevada delegates. “And a woman of color as president.”
But it’s not just the Democrats who are responding to such calls.
“The Democrats as a party are far more diverse than the Republicans are. ... The base of the Republican Party is really overwhelmingly white,” Hanson said. “But I think Republicans are very interested in highlighting figures in their party who come from diverse backgrounds and diverse races, men and women.”
“On some fronts, they’re doing a better job,” said Eric Herzik, political science professor at UNR. “The out (nonincumbent) party always has more people in line because there isn’t just one guy crowding everybody else out.”
At their convention, Republicans trotted out Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to display their bench’s ethnic diversity — especially among Hispanics.
“I would stack our up-and-coming, young, bright, motivated Republicans up against their group at any time,” said Bob List, former Nevada governor. “I think we’ve never had a deeper bench than we have now.”
But experts say the colorful palette at the convention podium has more to do with the present needs of the party than the future.
“Elections are won on the margin,” said Arterton, citing figures that showed certain voting blocs, especially women and Hispanics, are slightly more in play than they were four years ago.
“The idea of electing this very charismatic guy who also happened to be African-American, had that unique story, and could provide a national transition was a very enticing idea ... but I don’t really think that we will see necessarily a transition out of white Anglo-protestants or evangelicals over into minorities and females,” Arterton continued, pointing out that when John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic president, it didn’t inspire a wave of religious diversity in the Oval Office.
Every president since Kennedy has been a Protestant.
“Social progress moves in jerks,” Arterton said. “It isn’t necessarily a linear, smooth transition.”
For the most part, Nevada delegates said they were happily surprised at the depth of their bench.
“We have an embarrassment of riches,” said Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, a Nevada delegate from Las Vegas. “It bodes well for the future of the party.”
But with Republicans trotting out a roster heavy with governors, some Nevada delegates were concerned the Democratic Party was promoting less experienced figures.
“I think it’s hard to go from being a mayor to being a presidential candidate,” said delegate Chris Miller, chairman of the Clark County Democratic Party. “Even going from governor to president is a big jump.”
But jettisoning the common wisdom that a long political résumé is necessary for a presidential bid may also be part of the Obama legacy.
“We’ve evolved from a system where you run for president as the last office you’ll ever hold, where you pay your dues for 30 years and then you can run for president,” said Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign. “The truth is, that’s not really the case any more. If people can provide a compelling reason to support you to run for president and vote for you, you can be president.”