While it’s certainly possible to eavesdrop on earnest discussions about Obama’s choice of a vice-presidential candidate or about the campaign’s early voter-protection preparations in the eighteen key states, the single topic of conversation that seems to consume the attention of a fair number of the 50,000 people riding the elevators in downtown hotels and hanging onto the straps of the 16th Street MallRide is the search for credentials — the passes that allow entry into the various levels of the Pepsi Center. Everyone who is not either a delegate, a member of the mainstream press, or a serious donor seems to be scrambling for credentials. They’re given out every morning, so even those lucky enough to receive them have to start the search afresh with every new day.
Credentials come in different colors, indicating levels of access. There are “Perimeter” credentials, which allow one through the gates into what I’ve taken to calling the “Green Zone,” a vast multi-block area (vaster when limping across it in the blazing heat — note to self: Pack five-inch platform sandals back into suitcase) surrounding the Pepsi Center. (Must I really spend the next four days repeating the words “Pepsi Center?” They couldn’t have named the place the “Kit Carson Center” or even the “Elway Center”? And then there’s Coors Field. Why this citywide obsession with naming public gathering places after beverages?) The Green Zone is fenced off behind metal barriers manned by Secret Service agents. Most of the folks relegated to “Perimeter” credential status seem to be hardworking but politically unconnected volunteers. There are “Arena” credentials that allow one into the Pepsi Center itself but no farther. There are “Hall” credentials, themselves further divided into “Vendors” (obvious), “Special Guests” (mostly, it seems to me, the friends and employees of donors or political officials), “Honored Guests” (the donors themselves, and their immediate relatives), and “Press.” There may be others that I haven’t noticed yet.
The next level up, and what feels like the top of the heap until one’s eyes are sadly opened, are the delegates’ own “Floor” credentials. These allow one to roam freely around the floor, to sit with one’s delegation or to flit around admiring the spiffy name tags (complete with photographs) of the Ohio delegation or the flower leis decorating the necks of the lucky folks from Hawaii (given prime seating this year, for obvious reasons. Less obvious is why Guam’s nine delegates get to sit so close to the front). It would, I think, be possible to spend one’s entire delegate experience not once realizing that beyond the coveted green “Floor” credential floats the glory of the “Backstage” credential. And beyond that, so rarefied that its possessors tend to hide it in their breast pockets out of embarrassment at their own superiority, the “Podium” credential.
And let’s not even talk about Club level.