Candidates’ Visits: Controlled Chaos
A visit by a presidential candidate is a complex operation with dozens of moving parts. In 2008 I was fortunate to have hosted Sen. John McCain at a February Lincoln Day Dinner, and last week I was once again called upon to help with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's visit.
One of the reasons presidential candidates have advance personnel is due to the fact the campaign schedule changes almost daily. Influences in the news cycle, weather, venue problems and air traffic – just to name a few factors – all come to bear on the minute-by-minute schedule. Five days before his visit we were told to expect three stops...we got just one.
My role started on Monday afternoon, two days before the visit, when I met with two members of Romney's advance crew and two members of the Secret Service at the American Legion in Arbutus. I took them through the layout we had used for Senator McCain at that same facility.
The Secret Service guys had completed an initial walk through the building before I arrived. They had also scoped out the facility at The Frederick Fairground, which was on the schedule for event number two – until just hours before our meeting. They were very friendly, but serious guys.
They had the timing down for ground transportation to and from BWI Marshall Airport, where the TV trucks would be parked, where the traveling press would be ushered into the building and planned every footstep Mitt Romney would take in and around the building down to the minute.
Monday was walk through day and checking out the facility; however, Tuesday was the day all the staging, lighting and sound would arrive. Two giant trucks full of equipment, staging and chairs along with roadies and technicians. I watched as the Legion was transformed into what would be a national stage for the following day.
That afternoon we talked about how and where to lay out the seating and the stage for the town hall forum. The Romney advance guys have done this type of setting dozens of times in dozens of towns; my part was to advise on this local setting and to help coordinate with the local volunteers, former Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Maryland Team Romney.
On Wednesday I arrived four hours before the event to find people waiting in lawn chairs outside the main entrance to the Legion! We had prepared the venue for 350 inside (not including embedded press) and had made plans for Governor Romney to speak to any overflow crowds outside. The advance planning paid off; he would later speak to just over 175 people outside before entering the main room to the cheering crowd inside.
The event went off without a hitch. Governor Romney answered random questions, chatted with the crowd, shook hands along the rope line and even posed for a few pictures along the way. The crowd was enthusiastic, polite and left totally pumped. I am convinced we could have had a larger crowd in a larger venue. I am convinced, too, that a second stop that day would have been a second huge success.
After the event I had a brief moment to speak with Governor Romney. He expressed his thanks and he, too, was very pumped by his Maryland welcome.
When I worked on Governor Ehrlich's 2010 campaign staff, one of the most complex parts of the campaign was always his schedule. There were so many invitations and opportunities to choose from on a daily basis. Logistics, timing and only having 24-hours in a day was always in control... never us.
My two small glimpses into presidential campaigns by comparison were like looking into the Sun. They move at the speed of light, adapt to outside forces, new venues and comply with the security procedures of the Secret Service. Yet, they expertly showcase the candidate and drive his message – a pretty amazing juggling of many moving parts.
I told the commander at the Dewey Lowman American Legion that they were a pretty lucky post – two presidential candidates visiting, one in each of the last two cycles. I've been fortunate, too, playing a role in the same two visits.
My goal, however, is to host Mitt Romney in Maryland, anywhere would be good; however, my top choice would be Hampstead at a venue I know best... I'm having a pig roast, at my house, August 4th. Hey, who knows?