News & Politics

Reporting From Denver: A Political Mecca Cum Police State

Garrett Graff is in Denver all this week, reporting live from the Democratic National Convention. Keep checking back in for his coverage.

Inside the smoke-filled tent at the “Spirits of Denver” party.

On the first official day of the Democratic National Convention, downtown Denver was transformed into a political capitalist mecca cum police state. Everywhere one turned there were hawkers selling buttons, T-shirts, hats and bumper stickers, and just about anything else on which one could slap in Obama, McCain, Bush, or Denver logo.

Meanwhile thousands of police from dozens of agencies wandered the streets—even the U.S. Coast Guard was visible on the street, though the closest body of water was the tiny brook that gives the name to the Denver neighborhood Cherry Creek. Heavily-armed SWAT teams rolled through town hanging on the outside of their SUVs and armored vehicles. Flights of helicopters circled overhead throughout the day while on the street police in riot gear wandered looking bored from one underwhelming protest to another. The warm dry day this meant that sidewalk cafes were full and many receptions and parties throughout the day spilled out onto the street, where teams of aggressively helpful and cheery convention and Denver volunteers sought any excuse to provide assistance to those navigating the downtown.

The first official day of the Democratic National Convention marked the third intense day of partying, and by the end of the evening the toll on convention-goers was beginning to show.  Policy and politics were underway in full force as National Journal’s convention bible, Convention Daily, listed pages of events, panels, and policy debates. At the Colorado Convention Center, the center of many of the caucus meetings, a steady crowd attended briefings and meetings. In one room, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer used his trademark dry wit and Western charm to trash John McCain’s water policies—as he stressed, out West, “whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting”—while outside former Democratic chairman Terry McAuliffe signed copies of his memoir for faithful fans and a large crowd gathered to wait Tom Brokaw’s book signings. Small crowds of antiabortion protesters chanted that those entering the convention hall and a tiny crowd of McCain supporters were outnumbered by the bike cops “protecting” them.

After the convention closed for the night, Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth headed over to the Tattered Cover bookstore to fete the new Obama-themed humor book published by the editors of Slate, which is owned by the Post. At the party celebrating Democratic governors, held at Denver’s theme park, Elitch Gardens, New York Governor David Patterson had an entourage so large it seemed to be the size of all of the other present governors combined—the fairway crowd had to part to let him through. Bill Richardson, who had hoped to be in Denver accepting the presidential nomination, glad-handed even with those who showed no interest in meeting him.

For its party at the hot club Tamayo downtown, GQ had flown in a DJ from New York.  At the “Spirits of Denver” party at the swank Beta nightclub, hosted by the Distilled Spirits Council and a number of other organizations, party-goers like Kentucky Congressman Ben Chandler chomped on cigars and sipped bourbon, cognac, and Scotch in a perhaps unintentional parody of the conventions of yesteryear. In the back of the crowded party, a single staffer manned the table showcasing the Federal Trade Commission’s “We Don’t Serve Teens” education campaign, thereby ensuring that the party met the “educational event” loophole in the congressional ethics laws.

Garrett Graff is in Denver all this week, reporting from the Democratic National Convention. Head here for his coverage of parties, people, politics and more.