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09092012-2 The past two weeks featured the festive conclusion to the Presidential primary season and a milestone in the campaign trail. During the past two weeks, the Republican and the Democratic parties each held their political conventions. The Republicans gathered two weeks ago in Tampa and officially nominated Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as their candidates for President and Vice President. This past week, Democrats gathered in Charlotte to re-nominate President Obama and Vice President Biden.

Conventions are an important event for American voters and Presidential candidates. They officially identify who the party candidates will be in the coming election (although it is not much of a secret prior to the convention.) It is a chance for the party to reveal or reaffirm its position on key issues. Conventions offer candidates and their parties a biased opportunity to convince you to vote for them via a nightly parade of party loyalists who share why their man is the best man for the job.

09092012-1 Why are conventions necessary? What is the history of political conventions? What were the highlights of this year’s conventions? According to some of the speakers, why should voters support Romney or Obama?  Catch up on the convention highlights you missed during the final week of summer break and first week of school.

Convention History

It makes sense to begin with a definition: What is a political convention?  ABCNews answers this for us. Then, visit HowStuffWorks for a more comprehensive introduction to how political conventions work. The functions of conventions have changed over the last two centuries. Read more about how and why conventions have changed and the history of conventions. Exactly who attends a convention and what exactly happens there? Learn about the nuts and bolts of conventions.09092012-3

Although today’s conventions are tightly scripted odes to the party line, there have been historic conventions with drama and dissent. The Smithsonian Museum identifies four conventions in which key issues were debated. The results were, at best, contentious conversations, and, at worst, bloody physical confrontations. What issues were at the center of these four conventions? Discover more about the 1912 Republican convention, 1948 Democratic convention, 1964 Republican convention, and 1968 Democratic convention. Which of the issues at the heart of these divisive conventions is still relevant today?

Conventions 2012

09092012-4 This year’s conventions did not feature bloody brawls or protests; however, the menu of speeches included speeches to inspire and speeches to ponder.  The one unscripted address of the conventions was actor and director Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican convention. Organizers did not pre-approve Eastwood’s comments. Instead, his talk was ad-libbed, a surprise for all. It was a twitter highlight of the night and the focus of much speculation in the days after. Watch Clint Eastwood’s talk. Why do you expect his talk was criticized? How did it support the Republican agenda?

One of the most talked about speeches was the one delivered by the First Lady. Michelle Obama shared personal experiences about her husband and father and reflected on what it means to be a man. Watch Michelle Obama’s complete speech. (You can skip the introduction and begin at 3:00.) Ann Romney was also charged with introducing America to the personal side of her husband, and Republican candidate, Mitt Romney. She spoke to the delegates and television viewers about love. Watch Ann Romney’s complete speech. What unites these speeches? How are they different?09092012-5

Among the most anticipated speakers were the candidates themselves. Both thrilled the crowd by accepting the nomination for President of the United States. Both then took the opportunity to speak to millions of American viewers and to share their vision for the future, their policies and programs, and their criticisms of their competition. Watch Mitt Romney’s speech. Follow it by watching President Obama’s speech. As you listen, what resonates with you and why? What are the common themes? What questions do you have for each candidate?

Of course, as politicians, both are adept at turning a statistic in their favor. It is important to verify the evidence they offer. CBSNews fact checked both speeches. Read what they had to say about Romney’s speech and Obama’s speech. What made some statements false? How does this change how you will listen to future political speeches?

09092012-6 Conventions herald the final months of the Presidential campaign. The road to the White House concludes in November when voters visit the polls and the nation eagerly watches the results as they trickle forth. Until then, there will be a tsunami of advertisements (especially if you live in a swing state, a state in which pollsters cannot predict the outcome). There will also be a handful of debates. Put their dates in your calendar and aim to watch some.