Before election laws and party procedures shifted importance to primaries, national conventions were often the site of intense politicking, back-room negotiations and multiple ballots.

At the Republican National Convention in 1976, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan negotiated support from an influential bloc of delegates and nearly earned the presidential nomination over Gerald Ford, then the sitting president.

It was a memorable convention - and the last time the outcome of a major-party convention was in doubt.

Before election laws and party procedures shifted importance to primaries, national conventions were often the site of intense politicking, back-room negotiations and multiple ballots. But for more than 40 years, rapid-fire horse trading and shoestring allegiances have been largely missing from the convention floor.

This year the process was lengthened and decentralized, as candidates worked for months to woo superdelegates, run extensive ad campaigns and manipulate a 24-hour news cycle. That doesn't mean conventions aren't important.

"You're watching for the broad themes," said Paul Beck, political science professor at Ohio State University and an elections expert. "In both cases, [parties are] using the convention to make a platform to launch the fall campaigns. Sometimes there is a bit of drama."

Here's more about each.

Democratic National Convention

When: Aug. 25-28

Where: Denver, Colorado

Web: www.demconvention.com

Why Denver?

Energy policy has been a cornerstone of the Democratic campaign, and Denver is a perfect choice - a city that touts green living on its homepage. Also, Beck said, Colorado lies at the nexus of old and innovative energy production. Long known for producing fossil fuels like coal and oil, the state also is leading the shift from traditional infrastructure to renewable sources such as wind power. Colorado will be in play, though it's gone red the past two elections.

What to watch for?

Nominee Barack Obama is expected to reveal his running mate this week, and what he (or she!) brings to the ticket could combat the Illinois senator's lack of executive and foreign-policy experience. Also, the scale of Obama's acceptance speech - on Thursday, Aug. 28, before 75,000 fans at Invesco Field - is unprecedented.

Republican National Convention

When: Sept. 1-4

Where: Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota

Web: www.gopconvention.com

Why Minneapolis-St. Paul?

The North Star State embodies many of the homespun Midwestern values crucial to the Republican cause. More importantly, it's a battleground state that the GOP lost by about three percent in 2004. Experts are split about whether the stage was set for nominee John McCain to announce Tim Pawlenty, the state's conservative governor, as his running mate.

What to watch for

Since 1936, the party holding the White House convenes last, but this is the latest nominating event in history. McCain and his running mate (who might be announced at a rally in Dayton on Aug. 29) will need to offer thrilling platform speeches to energize conservatives and campaign donors who so far have been lukewarm about the Arizona senator.

Blog Log

The Candidates and the World

Web: www.blogs.cfr.org

Fair, balanced and beautifully formatted, the daily roundup of campaign news by staff at the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations is one you should be reading regularly. Authors link to breaking stories - energy policy is a favorite - and what they mean to you.

Poll Position

Democratic hopeful Barack Obama has a slight advantage over Republican nominee John McCain, though margins vary among polls. Here are several.

Obama McCain

Gallup Tracking 46 43

Rasmussen Tracking 47 46

Pew Research 46 43

CBS News 45 39

Source: RealClearPolitics.com (measured in percent)

Ballot Buzzword: NATO

Formed after WWII, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance among 26 nations in North America, Europe and the Balkans. The group's main principle is that an attack on one is an attack on all, and original goals included stabilizing Europe and Asia and curbing communism. Recently, many have urged strong NATO action after Russia, a non-member, invaded Georgia and threatened member nations nearby.

Vote Yourself '08

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