Correspondents Reminisce on Conventions Past

PHOTO: Sam Donaldson reports from the 1980 Democratic National Convention held in Madison Square Garden in New York City, Aug.11 to Aug, 14,1980.
ABC News

Amid the windy speeches and platform wrangling, political conventions have provided some unforgettable moments over the years. From hurricanes threatening outside to stormy tempers inside, the Republican and Democratic parties' nominating extravaganzas are a breed all their own.

For decades ABC journalists including Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, Amy Walter and Ann Compton have trekked through the convention halls scooping up stories.

From flaring tempers to cringe-worthy kisses, here's a look at some of their most memorable convention moments.

Number of Convention Years Covered: 12

There are so many. And they come from all different kinds of situations. From 1964-1980 I went to conventions as a member of a political family and the wife of a reporter, but not a reporter myself. From 1980 on I covered them, often with "broom to broom" coverage for NPR and then from 1988 on, for ABC as well.

1964 Democratic convention in Atlantic City: Liberals were trying to seat an alternative, integrated, slate of Mississippi delegates from the one credentialed by the segregationist state party. The advocates at the convention kept insisting that they had a lot of white support in the state. Barney Frank, who was then a young organizer, was in Mississippi trying to drum up that support and having a hard time of it so he sent off a telegram (yes, telegram) to his colleagues: "Don't speak until you hear the ayes of the whites." I always thought that was one of the cleverest lines I ever read.

1968 Democratic convention in Chicago: My father, former House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, had the unpleasant task of chairing the platform committee. Amid all the violence and chaos, I had one moment that I personally enjoyed. I was quite pregnant, but you couldn't tell it from the rear. A cop stuck his billyclub in my back and pushed hard telling me to "move along." I wheeled on him declaring, "If you don't stop that, I'm going to have this baby right here, right now." I think I'm the only young person (I was 24) who faced down the police successfully at that convention.

1972 in Miami (both conventions were in Miami that year): My favorite moment came from my mother. She looked out at the assembled delegates and said to me, "Why would anybody wear shorts that short?" It was a question a lot of the country was asking, along with lots of other questions about that convention that was so disorganized the nominee ended up giving his acceptance speech in the middle of the night. And it foreshadowed the landslide ahead. (And I haven't even mentioned Thomas Eagleton.)

1976 Democratic convention in New York:My mother, former Rep. Lindy Boggs, was the first female convention chair. It was a great achievement and she was very serious about her role. But when an errant grandchild (not one of my children, heaven forfend!) got loose and stood at the base of the podium calling out, "Hey, MawMaw," she just scooped him up in her arms and continued with her duties. Can someone tell me why we don't have women doing all of these jobs?

1980 Republican convention in Detroit:Watching the body language turned out to be much more interesting than listening to the speeches in 1980. At the Republican convention in Detroit there had been a flurry of stories that President Reagan was going to offer the vice presidency to former President Ford and make him a kind of co-president. Instead Reagan picked the man who had waged a bitter primary fight against him, George H.W. Bush, and Nancy Reagan looked like she was ready to murder them both. For the Democrats that year (again in New York) it was Teddy Kennedy wandering all over the stage to avoid shaking Jimmy Carter's hand that became the telling language. Senator Barbara Mikulski had been robbed of her big moment of nominating Kennedy because he withdrew. She loved regaling me with the speech she would have made, imitating Kennedy the while.

1984 Democratic convention in San Francisco:Of course at the Democratic convention in San Francisco in 1984 it was the nomination of Geraldine Ferraro as vice president that captivated all of the women reporters, but there were some other funny moments. A congressman from Colorado had been deputized to try to do some last-minute campaigning for Gary Hart with the delegates from American Samoa. He told me that he had asked how he would know which ones they were and was told, "They're the men in funny dresses." It goes without saying that he failed.

1984 Republican convention in Dallas: When you are a floor reporter you usually just grab an empty seat during the speeches that are going out over the air. During those moments you have some pretty telling conversations. I remember several at the Republican Convention in 1984 (it was in Dallas where it was 108 degrees outside and 50 degrees inside—not a great choice but inside won out). Sitting next to Rep. Silvio Conte, a moderate Republican from Massachusetts, when Jean Fitzpatrick railed against the "San Francisco Democrats." He just kept rolling his eyes and the fissure between fiscal and social conservatives was completely evident in those eye rolls.

During another speech, delivered by Howard Baker, I found myself sitting next to Bob Dole. Baker, then the Senate Majority Leader, was retiring, presumably to run for president in 1988 (which he never ended up doing). He had decided that he couldn't be majority leader and run for president. Dole joked to me, "I sure hope he's wrong." Dole of course lost to George H.W. Bush in the 1988 primaries and then did resign as majority leader to run, and lose, against Bill Clinton in 1996. Dole's fellow Kansan (and later Howard Baker's wife) Nancy Kassebaum was my seatmate at another point when, after a speech praising FDR the band struck up the old Democratic standard, "Happy Days are Here Again." I begged her to get me in touch with her father, Alf Landon, then 99 years old, who had run against Roosevelt to ask him what he thought of this turn of events at a Republican Convention. She laughingly said a firm no.

There are so many more.

1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta: In Atlanta in 1988 when John F. Kennedy, Jr. came out on the stage most of the audience felt we had raised him. He had such promise. And in New Orleans that year when those of us who covered Congress couldn't believe it when Bush named Dan Quayle as his running mate.

1992 Democratic convention in New York:Ross Perot pulling out of the race during the Democratic convention in New York in 1992 suddenly changed the contours of that campaign. And the Republican Convention in Houston that year was so disorganized it reminded me of the Democrats 20 years earlier. Pat Buchanan made a prime time speech. Ronald Reagan ended up in the wee hours. And none of us could find our rent-a-cars all week because the parking lot had no markers and we all had white Fords.

1996 Republican convention in San Diego: We broadcasted some reports from very high up on a scary metal frame thing overlooking the water. And in Chicago that year Hillary Clinton talked about women's burdens, including taking the dog to the vet. I thought the ghosts of Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, not to mention Richard Daly, must be scratching their heads.

2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia: Cheesesteak battles became the big story. Los Angeles—the Al Gore kiss, with folks on the podium muttering, "Get a room!" Well, eventually he did—a room of his own.

2008 Republican convention in St. Paul: First the craziness over whether Sarah Palin's baby is hers or her daughter's—true nutsiness with grown men discussing amniotic fluid in ways that you knew they had no idea what they were talking about-- and then we find out the daughter is pregnant. You couldn't make it up but we all thought someone must be doing just that.

And the Obama troops in Denver that year telling us reporter types that we were passé—that they would communicate by social media. Not so fast.

Number of Convention Years Covered: 9

At the 1976 Republican National Convention Nelson Rockefeller was Vice President of the United States but he was dumped from the ticket by President Ford who was being challenged for the GOP nomination by the very conservative California Gov. Ronald Reagan.

I was one of ABC's floor correspondents, my first such emersion into national politics, and I couldn't believe my eyes when right in front of me the liberal vice president, standing with his New York delegation, got into something of a scuffle with a conservative delegate from Utah over a Reagan placard. The angry Republican from Utah then tore the New York delegation's telephone right off of its moorings. The Secret Service had Rockefeller beat a hasty retreat from the floor.

Also 1976 at the Republican convention we honestly didn't know who would emerge from the convention as the GOP nominee, the incumbent President Gerald Ford, who came to office when President Nixon resigned two years earlier, or Reagan who came close, but in roll call votes on the floor Reagan did not have enough delegates and Ford emerged as the nominee. We floor reporters carried fat binders with the names and backgrounds of thousands of delegates. I recall interviewing a young woman in the Mississippi delegation where the adults all wanted her to vote for Reagan, but she cried, wanting to support President Ford. Now THAT was drama.

Number of Conventions Covered: 23

I'm tempted to say being among those tear gassed in the streets of Chicago in 1968, was, if not a favorite, certainly the most vivid convention memory but I suppose the one that stands out for me occurred at the 1972 Republican convention in Miami Beach.

President Nixon, having been re-nominated, undertook to shake the hands of each convention delegate; accordingly runways were hastily installed so delegates might walk up to receive their handshake. I got in line complete with big headset and backpack apparatus, clearly visible along with my press credentials hanging from my neck. At the bottom of the runway a lone convention official said "Where do you think you're going?"

"I'm going to shake the president's hand," I replied and for reasons that were totally incomprehensible to me then and now the official waved me on.

Frantically I got through to Av Westin the floor correspondent producer and told him I was on the way to question the president. Av said later he frantically tried to alert the overall producer to the situation. But as I approached the president, who upon seeing me next in line suddenly stopped smiling, I heard our anchorman Howard K. Smith say "And so that concludes our coverage, Goodnight from the Republican Convention in Miami Beach."

I was livid, I was beside myself…and now I stood before President Nixon and with a dead microphone in my hand shook his and mumbled something like "good evening, Mr. President" and moved smartly down the opposite ramp.

On other occasions I questioned party nominees as they stood on their convention platforms but it was this one that "got away" that I remember so vividly and bitterly!

Number of Convention Years Covered: 6

I'd like to think that most of my memories were about the substance of each convention. You know, like the speeches. Instead, most of what I remember about each convention was the city it was held in.

Best Convention City:

New York: (2004 Republican convention, 1992 Democratic convention). If I were Queen, I would declare that all conventions be held in New York City. This is one the only city in America that can host an extra ten or twenty thousand people and no one even notices. Restaurants are open 24 hrs/day. Transportation is plentiful and easy.

Worst Convention City:

Los Angeles (2000 Democratic convention): Even people who live in Los Angeles hate driving in Los Angeles. Now put thousands of out-of-towners in their cars and you've got a recipe for a disaster. Plus, nothing in LA is "close" to anything else. Once you picked your event for the evening you were trapped. Unless of course you had a police escort. Which, unfortunately, I did not have.

The Most Memorable Moments:

1. The Kiss (2004): The Democratic convention in 2000 was all about Al Gore try to get out from under the shadow of Bill Clinton. And, Clinton didn't help matters much when he entered the LA Staples Center for his address with the fanfare and buildup of a rock star entering a sold-out concert. So, when Al Gore took wife Tipper in his arms for a long, extended and awkward kiss, the message was supposed to be: I'm no Bill Clinton. Instead, for most of those watching simply said "ewwwww, TMI".

2. The Man From Hope: (1992): It's hard to believe that a video was ever a big deal. But, on the night of Clinton's acceptance speech, all of us in the convention hall were glued to a video montage of Bill Clinton's life story called "The Man from Hope." Produced by former TV executives, the video was professional and personal at the same time. And now, of course, it's impossible to imagine a convention without these videos.

3. Lipstick on A Pit Bull: (2008): No other VP candidate can ever match the level of anticipation – and energy – that Palin produced in her St. Paul speech.

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