After two straight wins by Bill Clinton, Republicans were united behind Texas Gov. George W. Bush and running mate Dick Cheney at their convention in Philadelphia. Convention participants interviewed by National Journal over the past 12 years have shared their recollections. Edited excerpts of the interviews follow.
Daughter of vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney
My dad had just joined the ticket a couple of days before the convention, so it was a real whirlwind. I have a memory of walking into the convention hall for the first time and seeing the big banners that said BUSH-CHENEY. It was the kind of thing you never forget—how moving that was. It really made the whole thing seem real.
One of my favorite stories has now become family lore. I had my kids with me. At the time, they were 6 months; 2 1/2 years old; and 6 years old. We would sit each night in the vice president’s box. I think it was the night my dad gave his acceptance speech—when they were doing the opening prayer. We all had our heads bowed in silence. What you don’t realize when you watch on TV is that there are a lot of press people and photographers who gather right below the box, so people are always taking your picture and talking to you from down there.
All of a sudden, it sounded like there was a dog barking. People started looking around, like, “My God! There’s a dog in here?” It sounded like a small poodle. I opened my eyes and I looked over, and it was my 2 1/2-year-old, Elizabeth. She was hanging over the edge of the box, looking down at the media people, and she was barking at them. It was terrible, because my husband and my sister and I were all standing there, and we started to giggle. And my mom was back in the green room, watching on closed-circuit TV. They kept showing shots of us, and she was watching her kids giggling during the prayer, and she was thinking, you know, “Where have I gone wrong?”
But we got Elizabeth to quit barking, and we refocused. I don’t know what possessed her at that moment, and I hadn’t realized how skilled she was at it. I literally had people who were sitting in the box with us say later, “Did you hear that dog barking?” And I had to say, “That was actually my daughter.” Elizabeth has continued to develop her animal-impersonation skills. She does horses now. She’s got a good gallop.
Presidential nominee’s spouse
When I gave my speech, the convention planners decided that when I was introduced, I would come onto the stage, and the confetti would be shot all over the whole auditorium as I waved to everyone. I had done all of this teleprompter practice, of course, and it was going to be a really huge television crowd. I was nervous.
What they didn’t think of was that the confetti was going to fall on the two teleprompter projectors, which are under the stage, sort of, and then the confetti was falling on top of the speech! When it was projected on to the screens, whole letters were left off—I saw the shadow of the confetti all over the words.
There was a slight moment of panic, which I think I covered. And things went through my mind. I thought, “I wonder if someone will notice it, and I’ll see somebody rush under the stage?” Fortunately, one of the little screens—the one on the right side—was a little bit better. I remember I was mainly looking in one direction, because that was what I could see. I couldn’t improvise the whole speech by any means, but to be able to see a little bit of it, it was enough to give it. I don’t know what would have happened if both would have been really covered with confetti.
I told my husband afterward, and we laughed about it. I mentioned it to a few people, but no one had noticed. I guess the great thing to learn is: Don’t do the confetti drop first! Do the confetti at the end.
RNC deputy chair for political and congressional operations
This was a convention I would love to relive. It was flawless. Obviously, in 1992 and 1996, things didn’t quite turn out our way in the presidential elections. Having gone to conventions in 1992 and 1996, there was a stark difference in the excitement, energy, and motivation among the delegates and volunteers in 2000. There were a lot of new people, and they were pumped. They wanted to win. They believed we were going to win. They knew this one was theirs.
As a staffer, you do a little bit of everything at a convention. Every day is different. The role that you originally go into is probably not the one you leave with. I remember my feet killing me every single day, after walking up and down those aisles and stairs, back and forth to meetings. What people don’t see is that there are constant meetings going on during a convention. We’re organizing at the state level. We’re getting our ground game coordinated for the final days of the campaign. You utilize every minute.
Occasionally, you get to go to one party, or you get to see a famous person, or maybe even get a drink or a morsel of food. But most of it is meetings and getting people ready. I wish it were more glamorous, but it’s really just a lot of work.
This article appears in the August 29, 2012 edition of NJ Convention Daily.