(cross-posted at NIAC's Blog)
So as you would have guessed, it’s not all serious panels and speeches at these political conventions. Just like the Democrats in Denver, the Republicans know how to let loose and have a lot of fun – with a characteristic penchant for spending money freely.
Of the many sights and sounds one takes in during a week-long city-wide bash like this, the most impressive was seeing the political operatives at work in their element, including our ‘guide’ here in St. Paul, McCain’s outreach coordinator to the Iranian American community.
Raymond Rahbari, McCain’s official IA outreach coordinator (the first ever such position within a Presidential campaign) is a true professional who has plied his trade from the lowliest of volunteer positions to substantive roles in both the Romney and McCain campaigns. In conjunction with the RNC’s wider efforts to reach out to ethnic minorities, Raymond worked the phone and traded on his contacts and favors to secure us exclusive party-invites and floor passes for all 3 nights we were here so that we could bring you the sights and sounds (and feel) of the convention.
Of course, as you would guess, the commodity of value in this business is access – and above all – access to donors and potential donors. Of course both political parties care about ideas, policy positions, and campaign slogans – but that’s for the politicians and wonks to worry about – ‘operatives’ are in charge of securing the most important commodity of all – money.
On Tuesday night, we attended two parties – an afternoon event thrown in honor of Mitt Romney by a few corporate sponsors with an open bar and a standing-only buffet (new ethics rules at work, can’t sit for a meal, but standing is ok) and a late-night musical bash (and open bar) with Mike Huckabee playing his guitar for a 400+ crowd of former staff and Arkansas delegates.
At the first, Romney and his wife both spoke, cracking jokes at the expense of the Democratic nominee to the delight of the 80-100 people in attendance. The guests were a mix of Mitt’s donors, a few former staffers, but predominantly party operatives who were wheeling and dealing in the midst of the festive mood and the light banter.
As a devoted student of electoral politics, I know that this monetary element of the democratic process is as vital as it is veiled, so it was a fascinating thing to watch the ‘behind-the-curtain’ action unfold before my eyes. For example, I saw a Colorado county-party chair extract a promise from a former Huckabee bundler to get the Gov. to go to an event in Colorado Springs in return for tapping into the county chair’s donor network on behalf of a New England congressional candidate. This entire ‘negotiation’ was intertwined with an insightful, clear-eyed, and yet sanguine conversation about the chances of their respective Senate candidates in this difficult election cycle.
Later that night in the excel center, as Barbra and George H.W. Bush looked on, Laura Bush spoke and President Bush serenaded the delegates via a video feed. Fred Thompson then took the stage and gave a rousing red-meat speech that drew the crowd to its feet and prompted a nearby lady, with tears welling in her eyes, to lament why he had not spoken like this last Fall.
At these moments as you watch those around you with lifted spirits and voices raised to a fever pitch, one is reminded that these conventions are more about invigorating the party faithful and the partisan foot soldiers, than about providing the public with a window into the policy positions and party platforms of the candidates. As you watch these speeches night after night, its important to keep that in mind.
Then finally, Joe Lieberman strode onto the stage to promote his brand of bi-partisanship.
Did I mention the open-bar at the Huckabee party?
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