CHARLOTTE -- At today's pleasant and crowded Carolina Fest just outside the security perimeter of the Democratic National Convention, thousands thronged in the sweltering heat to listen to bands, eat delicious North Carolina BBQ, and engage in goofy civic projects like seeing how big Abraham Lincoln's shoes were (pretty big!). But by far the most crowded area was the double-sided row selling Barack Obama-themed political swag, from "Run DNC" shirts to somber presidential portraits to items available at Obama-Bling.com.
Vendors who didn't shell out the tent-money were also doing a brisk business in Obama pins, bizarro-world calendars, and photographs next to a sort of Obama-Buddha made of sand. Even inside the perimeter, the official gift stores have been shoulder-to-shoulder with T-shirt buyers. By any comparison, the market for Democratic-ticket swag outpaces that of Republicans by a factor of several.
The enthusiasm translates personally, as well. I was nearly pinned to a wall on a sidewalk when a bunch of union T-shirt-wearing teenagers caught a glimpse of Jesse Jackson nearby in the backseat of a sedan. At the Epicentre, a mall just adjacent to the Time Warner Cable Arena, a persistent crowd of around 100 fans stands in the broiling sun for the pleasure of watching from a distance the live manufacture of MSNBC. "I got to see Nancy Pelosi on live television!" a young man said as he walked by me. When the left-of-center cable network shows old clips of Obama speeches, the sweaty crowd breaks out into cheers.
There was nothing remotely like this at the Republican National Convention. The few official merchandise sellers inside were not what you'd call crowded, and the most I ever saw outside was a lone button-seller, usually neglected. (It's also true that the RNC, unlike the DNC, was held at several lengths' remove from anything resembling the public.) The only politician I saw greeted anything remotely like a rock star was vice presidential pick Paul Ryan. Applause lines ending in the name "Mitt Romney" typically received just a respectful smattering of applause.
Is there any significant upshot to this? Maybe just that the "enthusiasm gap" between the two candidates is wider than you think. Nothing can compare to the scores of thousands of Americans waiting hours and hours in the hot sun for the chance to see Obama speak at the DNC in 2008, but the man still makes some hearts beat fast.