Conventional wisdom: MacManus reflects on 20 years of conventions

Susan MacManus, USF professor of political science and political analyst, only plans on getting about four and a half hours of sleep a night next week.

Shes used to it, though.

MacManus, who has been interviewed by nearly every major media outlet and has served as an election season go-to pundit in the state, has been attending conventions for the past 20 years.

On the brink of the Tampa natives first convention in her home city, MacManus shares some of her convention experiences.

The Oracle: What was your first convention experience like?

Susan MacManus: It was the Republican Convention in Houston in 1992. It was very exciting just to see how all of it was put together especially the media side. That was my first exposure to people like Walter Cronkite, and those kind of media stars of those days, pre-cable.

It was just me and the boys. I was young … I had always read out of textbooks and taught out of textbooks but I had never seen it in person. I was unprepared for the frenzy, the excitement levels and the multiple things for the delegates to do.

To this day, I still collect political buttons, and I sometimes take out my collection when I speak. Ive collected political buttons from both conventions since 1992. My favorite one is from 2000. In fact (former) Mayor (Pam) Iorio saw the buttons one time and said if you ever, ever want to get rid of that collection, please call me.

She likes them too. It was a pretty amazing election. I love to take them to my class. And these days, with digital cameras, I can bring really crazy things into the class and show the students the hoopla and the side of things they wouldnt see on television.

O: What were some of the craziest things you can remember from the convention?

M: It sounds strange now, because its kind of blas, but then it was people who were dressed in the oddest of attire before that was fashionable. People would come in things you wouldnt believe, like the Statue of Liberty. Sure you expect Uncle Sam outfits, but you dont quite expect the Statue of Liberty to be there and shake your hand. They have the mimes in the different places … Every imaginable scene that you can get your picture taken with to make it seem like you were there, are there at these conventions Air Force One, White House, whatever president you want, (or) first ladies. Its like a shopping mall of crazy, political stuff.

O: What have you learned over the years through attending each convention?

M: Conventions are where I learned the value of hanging out with delegates. Ill never forget at one of the conventions, it was Bob Butterworth, one of our former attorney generals of the state, in an elevator (with me). I asked him Where do you think the fights going to be in Florida, and he mentioned the I-4 corridor, and we first coined that phrase just from that conversa- tion. I kept that in the back of my mind and we use it on-air.

You get three kinds of knowledgeables at conventions: the grassroots activists, the ones that donate their time and make all the phone calls and walk the precincts; the elected officials, who have successfully maneuvered through the political system; and the political donors, the people who give a lot of money. One of the things I learned early on is that not everyone in fact, a very small proportion give money to effect policy. Some of these deep pockets just want a coffee table picture of them with their president. They have everything else, so why not a picture with Ronald Reagan or President Clinton? To them it was probably pocket change, but to us it seems like a lot of money. Its very interesting to see that.

O: What was your most memorable convention experience?

M: I remember the Republican one in New York a couple of years ago. I have four nieces and nephews, and Ive always told them over the years that if they could get to where I am, they can stay in my hotel room and Ill buy their meals and they can see things. One of my nieces was with me. We got right in the middle of the protests; right in the middle. There was no avoiding it. I had to go from one side of the street to the other to get my credentials and I was late getting there. All I can remember was thinking of how angry my sister would have been if something would have happened to my niece and just praying we could get from one side of the street to the other.

O: How did you first get interested in politics?

M: My family. We were always just interested in politics. Our family, as it grew, is very divided. My mother is one party and my dad is another I grew up with that. My uncle was a railroad union leader. Never in his lifetime would he ever vote for a Republican. Then on the other hand, I have Baptist ministers in my family, who never in their lifetimes would vote for a Democrat. You can imagine our family gatherings were quite passionate. But the good thing was that we could fight about things, and then stop, eat dinner, play all afternoon and realize that life goes on. You dont have to hate somebody because they have a different opinion.

I grew up in a very civic minded family, and voting was a big thing. I remember my mom and dad talking very specially about voting. We were the last family out there to get a television (because) my parents wanted us to read, but one of the very first things that I did with my mom and dad that I really liked was watching the political conventions on television.

O: What do you hope to get out of this convention?

M: My goal is to go into conventions and act like a sponge … From a teaching perspective its an invaluable experience.