Bill Harris knows conventions. This year’s Republican confab in Tampa, Fla., will be the 11th GOP gathering he’s worked on—and the third he’s run. National Journal sat down with the CEO of the Republican National Convention to discuss how 2012 will differ from prior years, and how conventions have changed in his four decades as a GOP operative. Edited excerpts follow.
NJ How will this convention compare to others?
HARRIS All conventions are different. They take on different complexion depending on the nominee, the location, the characters involved. This one is different in the respect [that] you’re going to see a lot more new media involved than in past. There’s a very aggressive attempt to involve people in the process, whether they’re an attendee in Tampa or not.
NJ Is Tampa a much different city than previous convention sites?
HARRIS I was CEO for Houston, Texas, in 1992, and New York City in 2004. New York was an interesting opportunity, but you really can’t say one is more complicated or complex. It’s a different set of challenges and opportunities for each one. New York is maybe more congested, but you had a fewer number of hotels to deal with. Bigger or smaller, it’s not necessarily more difficult or easier.
NJ Do conventions still matter?
HARRIS I believe the convention is critical to health of the parties, critical to health of presidential-election process. I think the process tends to bring the party together, at least once every four years. The actual process of writing the platform, the deliberation of the rules—the process makes a huge impact on the party. National conventions are perhaps the most intense, best opportunity for a general audience in the election cycle to gain an image and perspective on what the nominee is going to do and how they’re going to do it. There are a lot of people who say it’s not important anymore because primaries pick the president, but I think that’s wrong.
NJ How will this convention take on Mitt Romney’s identity?
HARRIS The majority of delegates who are selected [to] write the platform were elected to support Romney.… So, by definition, they will support the types of things Mitt Romney wants. You’ll see that reflected in program itself. You’ll have opportunities to project who Mitt Romney is, what type of individual he is, how he sees his vision of governing America. I think it will all be a reflection of not just what Republicans will do but what a Mitt Romney presidency will look like.
NJ How do you fit all the rising GOP stars—men like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the keynoter, and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who will introduce Romney—into the program?
HARRIS I’ve been involved in political arena since 1970, and I’ve never thought it was a failing to have too deep a bench. We are blessed with a lot of strong personalities.
NJ Is it important to highlight the party’s diversity?
HARRIS The Republican Party is a party that believes in a strong future, both economically and internationally, and that’s for all citizens in this country. We need to reach out to all segments to the country so they all understand their future would be better under a Republican administration than the other party.
NJ Do you have a favorite convention?
HARRIS Every one is different. They’re all different for a variety of reasons. My favorite convention is the one you’re working on.
NJ Well, do you have a favorite moment?
HARRIS It’s hard for me to pick out a particular moment. Personally, it’s letting me watch the political process in this country as it goes through change. It shows how country is changing, particularly from the technology perspective. We used to have a lot less reporters—the three network news outlets and a few wire services. Now technology has opened up this process to allow many, many other media outlets to participate.
NJ How many members of the media will be on hand?
HARRIS We will credential 15,000 members of the media. It’s a lot.