New Zealand at the Conventions
Election season is in full swing in the United States. The Presidential election officially began over the past two weeks as Mitt Romney and Barack Obama formally accepted their parties' nominations in Tampa, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina respectively.
Ambassador Mike Moore attended both parties' nominating conventions - to meet those who will shape US decision-making after November and to get a feel for how potential changes in foreign and trade policy will impact on New Zealand's interests once the votes have been counted.
The Ambassador’s visit to both conventions was “live-tweeted” from the middle of the action – under his Twitter handle @NZAmbassadorUS - which saw a 10 percent boost in followers, mainly from New Zealand.
Ambassador Moore, who followed a programme organised by the State Department in association with the Republican National Committee and National Democratic Insititute, took the opportunity to push New Zealand's case for concluding an ambitious, high-quality TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and for securing a seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
His TPP advocacy included meeting with Members of Congress and trade policy practitioners from both sides of the aisle, and delivering a keynote address alongside Senator Max Baucus of Montana at a symposium on the US' trade and economic future on the margins of the Democratic Convention. His UNSC campaigning benefited from extended contact with the Ambassadors from over 100 countries with whom he shared a programme in Tampa and Charlotte.
As well as pushing New Zealand's interests, Ambassador Moore also had an opportunity to sample the political talent featured in the official speaking line-up of both party conventions. Much of this talent was jockeying for position ahead of potential Presidential runs in 2016 and 2020. Few of these aspirants will have forgotten that, just eight years ago at the Democratic Convention, many Americans heard for the first time a speech by a little-known state senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.
Party conventions really have no direct counterpoint in New Zealand politics. Cramming an arena with tens of thousands of shouting, cheering, hollering party members - who enthusiastically digest the speeches, pop music acts and prayers - conventions have an atmosphere somewhere between an international sporting event and a rock concert.
The conventions also serve as a rallying point. Close to a hundred thousand politicians, political operatives, journalists and party members descend on a city for a week of argument, networking, partying and jostling for influence. The greatest prizes everyone is fighting for are tickets to the best parties and credentials to the floor of the convention - both of which bestow status as a political insider.
But the real prize, for the two Presidential candidates at least, is the opportunity to speak directly to the American people in an unfiltered way. All TV networks give over one hour of primetime viewing to each night of the conventions - which the candidates use to put on what amounts to a free infomercial. The proof of which infomercial the voters found more compelling will come in the next few weeks with the release of further opinion polls, which currently foresee a close result in November.