There was a time when the national conventions of the two major political parties were filled with drama, emotional catharsis and occasionally even angry fisticuffs. (Here's our gallery of great and not-so-great historic moments at GOP conventions.) Over the years, the quadrennial gatherings evolved into something more closely resembling slick, stage-managed infomercials, carefully designed to sell the parties' tickets to the public rather than to wrestle over fateful decisions. Even so, whether you're a hardcore political junkie or simply a citizen who likes to be informed, the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, which will run Aug. 27-30, may remain fascinating.
One factor that may make this year's convention a little more challenging to follow is the disruptive influence of Isaac, the tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico. The risk of dangerous weather already has prompted the Republican National Committee to cancel Monday's events.
Here are five easy, informative ways to not only immerse yourself in the event, but also to climb to the virtual podium and share your views with millions of others - without leaving your living room. (Note: We'll provide a similar guide to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 3-6.
- Broadcast and cable TV. ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS - reportedly to the ire of Mitt Romney's advisers - will skip the first night of the convention and then air compressed live one-hour coverage of Tuesday through Thursday starting at 10 p.m. But cable news networks will pick up the slack. CNN will offer evening coverage starting Monday at 6 p.m., while MSNBC and Fox News will send commentators such as Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly to Tampa. For the most complete, spin-free coverage, though, try C-SPAN-1. Probably the most unorthodox coverage: Democratic-leaning Current TV will cover the convention remotely from New York, with former Vice President Al Gore offering commentary and half of the screen devoted to a running stream of tweets about what's happening.
- Webcasts. ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News and C-SPAN are live-streaming the convention, virtually in its entirety, on their websites. For a totally unfiltered, you-are-there glimpse, PBS, with the help of UStream, is offering both a streaming webcast of the proceedings and live webcams of the convention floor and surrounding areas. Here's a press release with more details of the coverage.
- Social networks. If you're on Facebook,the GOP offers a Convention Without Walls app, which provides both continual updates on your timeline and streaming video. (Be aware that the app also accesses your personal data, including your friends list.) There's also an official YouTube channel with videos from the convention, and an official GOP convention Twitter account with convention news. Additionally, ABC News offers this list of key tweeters who are worth following for convention news and commentary. Or you can search for the hashtag #GOP2012 to find convention-oriented tweets, which are sure to come rapid-fire from both GOP and Democratic spin doctors. (Check out this USA Today article on how Twitter is rewriting the script for political conventions.)
- Mobile apps. The GOP offers Tampa 2012, an app for both the iPhone-iPad and Android operating systems. For insights from another angle, try the SuperPACApp, available only for iPhones and iPads, which will tell you who's behind those mysterious "independent" attack ads that are inundating the airwaves.
- AARP website. Election 2012 will post updates on the proceedings, so check in here often. And for a lively exchange about what's going on in Tampa, weigh in on the GOP Conventional Wisdom thread on the AARP Discussion Board. Just remember the community code: Be nice!
-Patrick J. Kiger