History of Mock Conventions at Saint Francis University

Joseph A. Melusky, Ph.D. | 04/17/2024

Saint Francis University mock conventions are held every four years for the party that is currently out of the White House. The upcoming Mock Republican Convention will be held on Saturday, April 20, 2024 in the JFK Student Center from 12:00 noon until approximately 2:30 pm.

These mock conventions have taken place since 1960, and they have become a tradition on the Saint Francis University campus. Excitement mounts every four years as preparations for the mock convention are made. State delegation chairpersons promote state unity and enthusiasm. State costumes, signs, and flags are constructed. Campaign managers try to secure the votes of as many state delegates as possible. Construction crews work hard to create an authentic looking convention hall. Our conventions are contested ones, with all delegates unpledged and free to vote for their favorite candidate.

The Storied Tradition of Mock Conventions at SFU

Students originated the idea of staging a Mock National Convention at Saint Francis University in 1960. The event has become a campus and community tradition, as a convention has been held every four years. It has been the tradition among the Saint Francis community to hold the convention of the party not holding the Office of the President. 

1960: The 1960 Democratic convention began amid parades and fanfare. The Honorable Philip Lepresti, a member of the State House of Representatives of Pennsylvania, delivered the keynote address. The event set standards for future years. The first mock convention ended with the nomination of Adlai Stevenson for president and John Kennedy for vice president. The event was deemed a tremendous success by all participants.

1964: The convention continued to grow in 1964, when it was staged in Doyle Hall amid shouts and cheers. The purpose of the event began to become clear as a 1964 passage from the University newspaper The Loretto indicated: "This convention affords our students an opportunity to learn more about our political system and enjoy themselves at the same time." 

1968: By 1968, the campus event had begun to attract outside notice. Students weren't the only ones who watched Senator Richard Schweiker, who then represented the 13th Congressional District near Philadelphia, deliver the keynote address. Various states nominated their favorite candidates, later yielding these decisions to other delegations. In the fashion of a true political convention, floor demonstrations were conducted for each candidate following the nominating speeches. After six hours of balloting, caucusing, and vice-presidential nomination, the convention was adjourned with Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Senator Charles Percy as the students' choices for the Republican presidential and vice presidential nominees. 

1972: The renowned Senator Eugene McCarthy was the featured speaker at the 1972 convention. Included in the nine-point plan he outlined was a suggestion that the Democratic National Platform include a firm commitment to end the war in Vietnam. Political maneuvering became an integral part of this event. Following the third ballot, Senator George McGovern was selected for president, and Shirley Chisolm was given the vice-presidential slot by the student body.

1976: By 1976, the convention, held in the Maurice Stokes Field House for the first time, had developed a high degree of organization. Georgia State Senator Julian Bond, the keynote speaker for the bicentennial year, stated that "the convention at Saint Francis University mirrored national conventions I have seen." In that year, the tension ran high as Governor Jerry Brown edged Congressman Morris Udall for the presidential nomination. Udall supporters had to remain content with the vice-presidential spot awarded him. The atmosphere of the 1976 convention was often a lighthearted one, as reflected by these observations offered by one of the student participants: "As expected, the crazies were out in force. One delegate appeared costumed as the Wild Man from Borneo. Another fashioned bicentennial shorts with bright green sunglasses to match." 

1980: In 1980, a mock Republican convention was held. George Bush, then a Republican presidential candidate, was forced to cancel his engagement as keynote speaker. John Sears was a late replacement, and he filled in quite ably. Once again, enthusiasm was high and the convention nominated Gerald Ford to be the presidential nominee, and John Anderson as the vice-presidential nominee. 

1984: The 1984 Democratic meeting was one of the most controversial in the history of the convention. Bella Abzug delivered the keynote address amidst the picket lines and protests outside the Stokes Fieldhouse of Ms. Abzug's pro-choice stance. Despite the controversy, the convention was a large success and generated much enthusiasm. Gary Hart was chosen as the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, and Jesse Jackson was the vice-presidential nominee. 

1988: The 1988 Democratic Convention was another rousing one. Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland was the keynoter and the delegates nominated Michael Dukakis for the presidency and Jesse Jackson (once again!) for the vice-presidency. 

1992: In 1992, the Democratic Convention was graced with the presence of Senator George McGovern as keynote speaker. Not only was Senator McGovern commemorating the twentieth anniversary of his nomination for the presidency by the Democratic Party; he was visiting Saint Francis University twenty years after his presidential nomination by a previous graduation of our mock convention delegates. Nominated for president was Governor (soon-to-be president) Bill Clinton, and for vice-president was Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who was present at the convention representing the Clinton Campaign. 

1996: In 1996, another Mock Republican Convention was held. Former Pennsylvania Governor, U. S. Attorney General, and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, Richard Thornburgh, was the keynote speaker. The delegates nominated Bob Dole for the presidency and Colin Powell for the vice-presidency. 

2000: In 2000, yet another Mock Republican Convention was held. Marlin Fitzwater, former press secretary for Presidents Reagan and Bush, delivered the keynote address. The delegates nominated John McCain for the presidency and Elizabeth Dole for the vice presidency. 

2004: The successful 2004 Mock Democratic Convention keynote speaker was Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. The 2004 participating delegates nominated John Kerry for president and Al Sharpton for vice president.

2008: In 2008, with President Bush completing a second term, it was time for another Mock Democratic Convention. The keynote speaker was former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton (IN-9th). Other speakers included PA Auditor General Jack Wagner, PA State Senator John Wozniak, and several surrogates representing Hillary Clinton including, U. S. Representative Alyyson Schwartz (PA-13th) and Jehmu Green, President of Rock the Vote Education Fund. The delegates nominated a 2008 ticket of Barack Obama for president and Hillary Clinton for vice president.

2012: In 2012, Barack Obama was president so another Mock Republican Convention was held. U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster keynoted. Other featured speakers included PA Sen. John Eichelberger, PA Sen. Robert Jubelirer, PA Rep. Mike Fleck, and County Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder. Mitt Romney won the nomination on the second ballot. Rick Santorum was selected as Romney’s running mate. 

2016: President Obama was still in office in 2016 so we staged another Mock Republican Convention. Speakers included PA Gov. Tom Corbett, US Rep. Bud Shuster, PA Republican State Committee Chair Robert A. Gleason, PA Sen. John Eichelberger, PA Rep. Jerry Stern, and County Commissioners Bruce Erb, Terry Tomassetti, and Bill Hoover. Delegates nominated John Kasich for the presidency and Paul Ryan as his running mate. 

2020: In 2020, Donald Trump was president and another Mock Democratic Convention was planned. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz and former PA Sen., Lt. Gov, and Acting Gov. Mark Singel were scheduled to be featured speakers. All arrangements were in place when COVID hit and the campus went into a full lockdown. Unable to proceed with our live mock convention, we staged a virtual alternative Democratic primary election instead. Joe Biden won! 

Excitement mounts every four years here at Saint Francis University as preparations for the mock convention are made. State delegation chairpersons promote state unity and enthusiasm. State costumes, signs, and flags are constructed. Campaign managers craftily secure the votes of as many state delegates as can be persuaded. They flood the campus with slogans, posters, and other paraphernalia in support of their favorite candidates. Construction crews work hard to create an authentic looking convention hall.