CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The difference between Democratic National Convention revelers here and their Republican counterparts in Tampa, Fla., last week was immediately visible Monday night at one of the first big parties, hosted by the Distilled Spirits Council and featuring Camp Freddy, a rock band led by former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro.
Gone were the blazers and solid-colored knee-length dresses so ubiquitous at the Tampa parties. In their place were sequins, backless dresses, funny hats, T-shirts, dramatic hemlines, boots and a kaleidoscope of patterns all jockeying for attention. Compared to Tampa, there seemed to be significantly fewer huddles of 40-something men talking in low voices at the party, and instead, more 20-somethings zig-zagging around the open courtyard, dancing and cheering for the band.
In short, the scene at the Charlotte Music Factory was like a tableau vivant of the Democratic Party itself, a political caucus comprised of unique, often unruly factions, at times united by little more than a belief that government plays a beneficial role in people's lives.
Journalists in Charlotte Monday generally came off as more staid than the rest of the 200 hundred or so revelers. More than a few reporters were spotted standing off to the side of the party, the women in black dresses and the men in khaki pants and blazers. This was a far cry from Tampa, where reporters were often among the more energetic party-goers, in a first-to-arrive, last-to-leave kind of way.
But where Tampa parties were generally devoid of conversation -- with reporters or anyone else -- about GOP nominee Mitt Romney, guests who spoke to HuffPost in Charlotte Monday were universally fired up about President Obama. Five people, including a health care lobbyist, a union rep and a few political strategists, all brought up Obama in conversation.
Incidentally, the president was the same person mentioned most by guests at the Republican convention parties, leaving little doubt about who the 2012 election will be about.
As the Music Factory shut down around 1:00 a.m., a large contingent of political strategists, union folks, and congressional staffers headed back into the middle of Charlotte for a late-night bash sponsored by the Democratic Governors Association, which ended around 2:00 a.m.
But the biggest visible difference between Tampa and Charlotte was the aura of out-and-out celebration Monday night, a mood which seemed at times to be missing last week in Florida. In part, that was due to forces beyond the GOP's control -- the convention's first day was cancelled due to Hurricane Isaac, putting a damper on the week. Clint Eastwood's bizarre performance on Thursday quickly became the most memorable part of the night -- not Romney's acceptance speech, as was intended.
But there were glimpses of full-throated enthusiasm Monday in Charlotte, of the kind that Democrats have had trouble capturing so far in the 2012 presidential contest. It was summed up well by Kelsey Stroud, a Democratic Senate committee staffer wearing a short white dress with a sequined skirt, who exclaimed, "I love me some Obama, and I love me some sequins!"
Whatever one's political affiliation, it's difficult to imagine a Republican convention-goer hollering the same phrase with Romney's name in Obama's place. That's not to say, however, that the Republicans won't be motivated come November. Only that despite all the speculation about buttoned-up Republicans letting their hair down at wild parties and strip clubs, the party scene in Tampa never got all that rowdy.
As one former Republican party staffer-turned-lobbyist remarked, "All that stuff about wild Republicans at parties gets ginned up at every convention to sell papers, I get it. But in the end, conservatives are gonna pretty much behave conservatively. I never understood why that's always so shocking to people."