Rich Galen

The quadrennial political conventions of the two major parties take years - literally - from the day the Republican and Democratic National Committees appoint the site selection committees; to the night the nominee gives his (or her) acceptance speech.

Conventions are more-or-less bifurcated affairs. The RNC and DNC have the responsibility for putting the convention on - raising the money, building out the arena, dealing with security and hotels, etc.

The campaigns have the responsibility for the actual program - who speaks on which day in what order on what subject.

These programming decisions are started many months out when the nominees begin thinking about what the "messaging" is to be and what the big themes are to be to make those messages ring true to a large audience.

Conventions tend to be four days with the first day being devoted to the business of the convention (rules, platform, delegate challenges, etc) and the big finish being the acceptance speeches of the nominees on the fourth night.

In between there are hundreds of speakers - from candidates who need a boost to senior Members of the House and Senate to Governors and, of course the big three: Keynote, VP and President.

The schedulers - the program managers - take direction from the campaign for who will speak, but the managers have the responsibility to pencil in where they speak and what their topic will be.

This is all timed out so that the major speeches of each night (First Lady on Monday, Keynote on Tuesday, VP on Wednesday and President on Thursday) fall within the ever-shrinking window of coverage provided by the four major networks.

The Democrats had a standard four-night operation with the necessity of giving both Hillary and Bill Clinton primo speaking slots.

But for the GOP, the challenge took the form of a tropical cyclone roaring through the Gulf of Mexico aiming straight at Bourbon Street in the form of Hurricane Gustav.

Given the total failure of government at the local, state and Federal level a few years back during and after Hurricane Katrina, there was a great deal riding on how the public perceived a bunch of bangle-wearing, banner-waving, cheering, chanting delegates in St. Paul while New Orleans was drowning.

Sen. John McCain decided to cancel the entire program for Monday night and held out the possibility that Tuesday would be cancelled as well.

All those hours, days, and weeks of moving speakers and videos around the rhetorical chess board went right out the windows of the Xcel Energy Center hockey arena and it was left to two guys to put Humpty Dumpty back together.

Those two guys - sitting literally behind the curtain of the stage - were long-time Mullpals Bill Greener and Ed Goeas both of whom I have known for better than a quarter of a century.

Bill is a partner in one of the most successful corporate and political communications firms in Washington, DC, Greener & Hook; Ed is the President of The Tarrance Group one of the premier polling and strategy firms in the business.

They sat in a cinderblock bunker charged with the responsibility of taking a four-day convention, turning it into a three-day convention while still getting all the major players on stage at the right time on the right day.

The case of former Mullboss Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was an excellent example. The first whisper out of St. Paul had her speaking on Thursday. Later that was moved to Wednesday. According to Greener and Goeas, after the Gustav cancellation her four-and-a-half minute speech was expanded to five then seven minutes. Then zero.

In the end she was dropped from the line-up which decision she took with the grace and understanding the people of Texas have come to expect from her.

GOPAC chairman Michael Steele was first scheduled to speak on Tuesday, but got moved to Wednesday then Thursday until he actually spoke … on Tuesday.

Twenty hours a day Greener and Goeas struggled to move people and messages around so that the two main events - Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. John McCain would still be the crescendo events the GOP desperately needed them to be.

There is an old saying in the theater that goes "It doesn't matter what happens in the wings. It only matters what happens under the presidium arch - what the audience actually sees."

I don't think that's actually an old theater saying, but I say it a lot.

The size of the bounce that McCain/Palin got out of their convention had a great deal to do with the work that went on by the men behind the curtain.


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.