With Tropical Storm Isaac threatening the Gulf Coast, Republican Party officials said Saturday they will postpone convention activities originally scheduled for Monday in Tampa. It is the second straight Republican convention that will be cut short a day thanks to weather.
Both parties should take the hint: The practical benefits of holding a convention in late August or early September no longer apply. Now, in fact, there are ample reasons to hold a convention earlier, rather than later.
Republicans and Democrats always jockey for convention position. They must conduct their formal nominating processes in time to meet ballot deadlines in key states, but they each want to hold their events late enough to capture attention from undecided voters who haven't yet tuned into the campaign.
But the number of undecided voters who actually spend an evening watching the convention proceedings is incredibly small. Instead, the big speeches Mitt Romney and President Obama will give over the next two weeks will be spliced into soundbites and played in 30-second increments, which will reach more undecided voters than the speeches themselves.
Another reason to hold conventions as late as possible has also gone out the window. Under public campaign financing law, both candidates have a set amount of money to spend between the moment they officially win the nomination and Election Day. If one candidate is nominated significiantly earlier than another, they have to spread their money thinner. That hurt Sen. John Kerry in 2004, when he spent the month of August husbanding his resources instead of taking the fight to President George W. Bush on equal footing.
But that's a concern neither side has to deal with anymore. Both Obama and Romney have opted out of the public financing system, and it's not likely that any major party nominee will adhere to its limits unless major and substantive changes to the system occur. Instead, both Romney and Obama are planning fundraisers in September to keep up their torrid spending pace.
When it comes to money, it's actually helpful to be nominated earlier. This cycle, an individual donor can write a $5,000 check, $2,500 for the primary election and $2,500 for the general election. Romney and Obama can't spend the second half of that money until they formally get to the general election -- that is, until they are formally nominated at a convention.
So Romney and Obama have millions of dollars from wealthy donors effectively locked up until they actually win their nominations. If they were nominated in July, they would be free to tap into that money much earlier.
When planners get around to contemplating the 2016 conventions, they would do well to consider the realities of late summer. The benefits of waiting until the last possible minute are slim; few voters are paying attention to the speeches in real time, and money considerations are effectively off the table. The risks are significant; as hurricane activity increases, as it has over the last decade, the chances of a storm hitting during a convention week and interrupting the best laid party plans increase.
Maybe it's time to stick to July.