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Campaign 2004
The 2004 Republican National Convention - Boston, Massachusetts - July 26-29
Editor's Notebook
By Bob Collins, Senior Editor - News
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Down in front!


Whose view do you think this is?


It's President #41. The presidential box is pretty much down with the delegates, separated only by an aisle and some height. That picture above is what they have looking at them when they're trying to look at something else. All night. All the time. Some life.


The main camera platform always makes me ask the same question. Why not just hire one person? You have all these highly paid photographers for news services clicking all the time. I'll bet you see the same shot in the newspaper. Pretty expensive way to be the same as your competition.


Usually by the third session of the week, the seats start to stay empty. Here's a shot from Tuesday night, two hours after the convention started. In the Minnesota delegation, as with most states, the folks don't show until the big guns speak.


Some guy from Virginia was handing out these Band Aids with a purple heart, an obvious attack on John Kerry's medals in Vietnam. The GOP asked people to stop wearing them because they didn't want to be questioning Kerry's service in Vietnam. This woman isn't listening to the party. A lot of delegates aren't.


The presidential seal's impersonation of the Bush daughters.


The obligatory Times Square shot. New Yorkers, who in general don't care for Republicans, aren't staying home watching the convention.


That's right. I've now stooped to taking pictures of people taking pictures.... of paint in a can.

Permalink Permalink | 08.31.04
Who gives a rip?

Lacey, Yassin, Angel, and Yasmill wouldn't know a Republican if one stepped off a bus and painted their daycare center. Today, a bunch of them did.

On a day in which the theme of the convention is "compassion across America," delegations fanned out across the five boroughs of New York to prove they have a heart and give a rip; a concept that is likely to provoke chuckles from Democrats. But even if the Republicans were working in the community for only a day, that's still one more day than the Democrats put in in Boston last month.

Indeed, the event had all the makings of a photo op -- well, yeah, probably because it was a photo op. And one young man whose name appeared to be "I work at the White House" (hey, that's what he said when someone asked) was making sure that "Compassion Across America" stickers were prominently displayed on the delegates as they approached the paint brushes, cans, and rollers with all the self-confidence of a teenager who discovered a pimple on the morning of the senior prom.

(Photo by Lacey)

The kids -- Lacey & the gang -- were sent with their leaders to the corner park to play. And, later, some of the delegates were sent there too, since too many of them had volunteered and there was no room to accomodate them all. The luckiest ones got to play; the rest got to paint.

I played.

It doesn't take much to entertain a 5-year-old and if you have any parental experiences at all, you know that a digital camera and a strong back are about all you need, although delegate guest Lowery Smith's (Minneapolis) 4-fingered hand provided a good backup.

For an hour the delegates played, before the kids were called to the park bench to eat their lunch. During the time, an occasional "can we play yet?" plea would be registered. It came from Dan Kihistadius. He's not a kid. He's a delegate from Burnsville.

Nobody talked politics; they talked 'kid,' a language that -- if spoken often enough (and preferably with kids) -- can often refocus a person's priorities to forget about method and worry about results. The delegates at the park all seemed to lead lives of personal mission not at all inconsistent with taking a bus to a day-care center in Brooklyn. Where they differ with their Democrat counterparts is the method of helping the Laceys, Yassins, Angels, and Yasmills. The ones I talked to all had stories of mission work, mostly in other countries and mostly with a faith-based organization. If they were talking the talk, they seemed to know how to walk the walk too.


Photo op? Well, after I stopped taking photos, they kept playing.

In a political campaign, the debate often gets boiled down to this: (Political party of your choice here) cares about the kids. (Political party you don't like here) doesn't. Some debate, eh?.

By early in the afternoon, it seemed that the tendency to talk politics was in reverse proportion to the amount of time actually spent with the kids. Back at the day-care center, the walls in Brooklyn are pretty much the same as the ones in Minnesota. A delegate hurt his finger. "Is your finger OK?" one delegate asked. "Yeah, and I put in for a Purple Heart," he replied.

Because the bus driver was to go off duty at 2 p.m., the group had to leave. Some delegates stayed behind to finish the painting; they'd figure out how to get back later. Delegate Missy Graner, a University of Minnesota student, didn't want to leave. Not before she said goodbye to the kids, she said.

It would've been easy to get back on the bus and head back -- self-satisfied -- to Midtown. The delegates at least earned that. But on the way back, Rep. Mark Kennedy said he'd heard the day care center has more needs than just freshly-painted walls, and delegates began offering ideas of more ways they can help. They intend, as a group, to establish a relationship with the center -- and the kids -- and provide money and supplies to continue the work. One delegate suggested a plan that would link their kids with the kids in the center.


There's an episode in West Wing in which the jaded White House staff is forced by White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry to spend a day meeting with members of the public and listening to what they're interested in. Apparently it's something that Washington (George, not DC) required. By the end of the day, the staffers bubbled, ostensibly for having learned something about people, but also for having been reminded that they do what they do for more reasons than just saying "I won" on a Wednesday morning in November.

The delegates clearly took away more than they'd thought they would. Kids can do that to you. Especially in Brooklyn.

Maybe we'll get a better debate out of it. All in exchange for a few hours work and some buckets of paint.

Good deal for everyone.

But first this message...

The bus taking delegates to Brooklyn was late arriving. Finally, of course, it did. It's a hybrid bus from General Motors, which burns -- I don't know -- tofu or something . Before we budged, the delegates got a lecture from the GM representatives on the joy of hybrid busses.

"It doesn't burn much fuel."

Whoop whoop whoop from the delegates.

"It doesn't belch out a lot of smoke so it's better for the environment."

More cheers.

This went on for about 10 minutes with the guy pitching and the delegates whooping -- which was weird considering matters of mass transportation isn't exactly up the GOP's alley.

Finally, one delegate shouted, "Who cares? We're Republicans."


As you might expect, Rudy Guiliani is -- my very unscientific poll shows -- the choice of Minnesota delegates for the presidential nomination in 2008. "We're still holding out for Tim Pawlenty," said Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer. Few were impressed with John McCain.


Where can I find a copy of Ron Silva's apeech? - Shirley, Rockford, IL.

The GOP convention main page has a section called REWIND where all the speeches are transcribed.

Last night (monday, August 30) an NPR reporter who was on the floor tried to talk to Michael Moore but was stopped by the Secret Service. Why?
-- Matt, Coon Rapids

Did you see that on TV? I hadn't heard about it previously. I wasn't aware that Moore was allowed on the floor. I understand he was a guest in a media box (might've been USA Today). Hard to believe Moore was credentialed for the floor, but maybe. I'll poke around.

Bob, are you seeing any significant difference between the reporters, the
columnists or the commentators at the RNC?
I wonder if you see different MOs for those who are charged with letting folks
know what's happening vs. those who are expected to share their opinion on what they've seen. When so much of the DNC and RNC is scripted for a particular audience impression, does it affect the sorts of questions they ask, where they hang out or whom they chase down, any of the details about how they put a piece together? -- Kate

Not really, Kate. At least I don't see any evidence of it. In terms of access and where they hang out, all the credentialling is down by the Washington Radio TV Press Gallery so the access rules are pretty much the same. The questions, and I assume you mean tone rather than actual content since the issues tend to be a bit different, is about the same. I will tell you that I think reporters are bending over backwards in how they approach Republicans not to come off as looking like Democrats. Huge mistake. Got a question? Ask it.

There are two groups of media here. The assigned and the independents. Independents might be people like MPR or a stringer out of San Francisco. The party doesn't really care much about accomodating us, which is fine mostly. But, unlike Democrats, Republicans didn't make a "mult box' available so that we could get actual audio of any stuff coming from the podium. We did find a location somewhere that you could use if you contracted for it. But this would be roughly equivalent to you paying a telemarketer to call you around dinnertime. In my book, this is monumentally stupid and shows that the Republicans are more focused on the folks with the nice skyboxes; not that the Democrats didn't. But at least they acknowledged us.

As for the commentators, hey, if we're going to have a constituional amendment to ban something, how 'bout commentators? The Republican ones always say -- and you can knock me over with a feather on this one -- the Republicans do great work. The Democrats tend to favor the Dems.

And the anchors and correspondents, they're just looking for something that faintly smells like news, especially if they don't have to actual do, you know, reporter work to find it. Remember the breathless coverage of Al Sharpton's speech in Boston. He dared do two things (a) went too long while being entertaining and (b) responded to President Bush's policies with a point by point stinging rebuke; something John Kerry might want to think about when he sees the bounce Mr. Bush is going to get off this convention.

And last night -- Tuesday -- the Bush daughters were pretty well roasted by a bunch of commentators who cover politics -- politics! -- because they weren't funny.

One guideline for watching commentators: If they wear bowties, are they really in any position to tell us anything. They wear bowties! Hey, buddy, go pick up some Garanimals, and then get back to me with the political science.

So what's different? The music. Man, it's way better than the Democrats and I still don't understand what the Democratic obsession with the '70s was all about. The '70s stunk musically and, if you ask me, the fact that one of the biggest plays in this Democratic city is a play full of music from ABBA tells you everything you need to know about what's wrong with the party. Lousy music.

The Republicans are heavy on country music. And I can take it or leave that. But tonight they had Dana Glover who was quite good and Jaci Velasquez who was on fire. They closed it up with the Harlem Boys Choir. Later today, the music is from Third Day, Sara Evans, and Brooks & Dunn. The election would be over today if we were only electing a soundtrack.

I know that doesn't answer your question but surely you know by now that when you talk to me, we're going to end up lost on a different tangent.

Permalink Permalink | 08.31.04
Let me give you a hug

It's closing in on 2 a.m. and I'm feeling the pressure of meeting expectations. Hey, this...ummm... whatever it is, was a lot easier to write when I knew nobody was reading it. But now....now, you want the chuckles every morning.

Sorry, not this morning.

Tonight's....err, last night's appearance by the relatives of victims of September 11 underscored the fact that the heavy cloud of debris never left the city. Now, listen, before we go much further here, this is not an article about whether the Republicans are right or wrong about walking the line of using September 11 in a political convention. That's for you to decide.

I don't know how to overstate the 800 pound gorilla on Manhattan that is September 11. For most of us, it was frightening video on TV. But here, here it's real. Here's there's a face. Here there's a hole in the ground and millions of people who are trying to go back to the way things were before it got there, but they can't.

(Photo: Becky Milbrandt of Hudson, Wisconsin greets a police dog at the entrance to the delegates' hotel on New York's East Side. Her husband is a firefighter.)

Even without a national political convention in town, the city's in lockdown. If I were thrown out of work tomorrow -- and that's always a possibility -- I know I could always get into the security business in Manhattan because everybody's already in it and it looks like they're still hiring.

A few delegates have gone to the World Trade Center site. I haven't. But the other day I stopped into the stationhouse of Ladder 7. They lost four guys. I saw their pictures and read their story and talked -- briefly -- to their friends.

Here there's a face of September 11. There are three or four of them every 20 or 30 steps. They're cops, mostly. There's 10,000 of them in Manhattan this week and a whole lot of them -- and maybe this is me -- look young enough to be my kids, or maybe a brother.

But they're a face -- not in TV, but right in front of us -- of hundreds of folks just like them that went running into two burning buildings, and never came out.
I think delegates are frustrated that the words aren't there to tell them about the ache that's still in the hearts of people from Minnesota and just about everywhere else.

But, you know, this is New York; a city that knows how to take a punch. New York cops have always been a pretty interesting bunch. It's a decidedly unfun job that a lot of cops -- and go figure this -- seem to enjoy.


Meet Officer Bowler. I did only briefly -- too briefly to get his first name written down -- because we shared the front seat of the bus taking us to the convention. He's actually a plain-clothes guy in the department's organized crime unit. But this week they told him to put a uniform on, and his job is protecting the delegates in their buses, who -- you have to admit -- make an inviting target.

He's two years away from retiring and he's not sure he will, although he'd like to. But he says since New York is putting in a bid for the summer Olympics, he might stay on. Seems "the wise guys" (as he puts it) are already buying up properties on which would sit the Olympic village. So when the Olympics come to town, the wise guys go to town and Officer Bowler's business picks up.

A lot of New York cops retired after September 11. The bomb squad, for example, was decimated by retirements. But it's obvious by the youth of the faces I've seen guarding our hotel this week, that there's plenty of kids who still want to be grow up to be New York City cops, and run into buildings if that's what they have to do.

As the delegate bus pulled up to Madison Square Garden, Officer Bowler (and you know, I'll bet he's a lot higher up than just an officer) was the first out the door...and then turned and smiled to every person getting off the bus, shook their hand, smiled and said "Welcome to New York."

When my Dad returned from World War II, he came home through New York. He and my mother used to say, "the folks of New York couldn't do enough for the soldiers after World War II."

There's a bunch of delegates from Minnesota who know what they mean.

Work with me

Reporters are working a lot harder for stories at this convention, as opposed to Boston. Sometimes we work too hard looking for stories. The Star Tribune, I think, is following one delegate Justin Krych of Duluth, so that you can really get a sense of what his day is like.

Apparently, I think, part of his day involves trying to ditch the reporters who are trying to chronicle what his day is like.

He shook loose long enough to get some peace on the delegate bus yesterday afternoon when he ended up sitting next to Laura McCallum. Seems that Laura knew the folks at All Things Considered wanted to interview him, so she arranged it and, since he's not staying at the hotel, let him use the phone in her room, which doubles as the official MPR feed center.

They did the interview, Laura said goodbye and went about her business. A short while later, there was a knock on the door. It was Justin...and the Strib photographer. She need to recreate the moment when he was on the phone in Laura's room talking to the folks back in St. Paul.

If it feels good...

The delegates held their first breakfast meeting Monday morning. They were given instructions on how to deal with protestors ("Don't engage them even if it feels good. If it feels good, don't do it," they were told). Secretary of Education Rod Paige gave the pep talk, describing the Democrats as "dangerous," and imploring the delegates to "bring us Minnesota" on election day. The delegates should be seeing, if not the A List, a pretty good crop of administration officials; a testament to the state's importance as a battleground state.

The sights and sounds

I didn't make it down to the Garden to hear Guiliani's stemwinder last night. I was working on a little multimedia slideshow which lasts about 5 minutes, but because the program I use to make these is on another computer in St. Paul, I had to code it all by hand and that took about 6 hours. I'm sure that means nothing to you, but if you've been camping and forgot the matches and only had these two sticks that were sort of damp, that's pretty much what I did.

So if you've got RealAudio installed and a high speed Internet connection, click here.

And finally...

No doubt you're beginning a day of work. No matter how bad you think it is, it could be worse. You could be in charge of marketing a hotel that has a view like this. Guess whose room this is.


Are you going to drop me a line or what?

Permalink Permalink | 08.31.04
Send Bob Collins a question, or comment on his posts.

Notebook Archive
Document Who gives a rip?
Document Let me give you a hug

Send Bob Collins a question, or comment on his posts.

Photo Log

Down in front!

Links & Resources

Document Republican National Convention (official site)
Document WNYC New York
Document MPR: Campaign 2004

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