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The Advance Man

On the campaign trail. Gotta keep moving. Sweat the details. One slip could spell disaster.


Some things never change, though. Shoes. An advance person wants dry, comfortable feet, and powerful shoes that can stomp through crowds, plowing the way like cow catchers on a locomotive. (Jim King, a legendary Democratic advance man and now the head of the federal Office of Personnel Management, mastered the technique of linking arms with two other advance people and walking backward, stooped over, ramming people with his rear end as the candidate glided along and reached over his back and shook hands.)

Another constant: over-planning. Redundancy. The presumption of possible disaster. Nothing can be left to chance or luck.

An advance man has to make sure the little American flags passed out at a rally aren't stamped "Made in Taiwan." The wheels-up party is another tradition lovingly nurtured. When an event is over, the advance team goes back to the hotel bar, the party beginning as soon as the candidate is "wheels-up" at the airport.

"You just have a blow-out drunk party to talk about how great you were," says Chris Doherty, a Washington lawyer and longtime advance man for Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Doherty has the key characteristic of an advance man: intensity. Doherty thinks nothing of calling total strangers in an unfamiliar town at 2 a.m. to round up volunteers for a dawn rally.

"You have to be both frantic on the inside and calm on the outside," Doherty says. "You never let up until wheels-up."


If Dole wins, Weiss might get a job in the White House. If Dole loses he's unemployed. He doesn't think about Dole losing, though. He thinks about the details--the motorcade, the hotel, the sites, the crowds, the food, everything from where the bathroom is to which local official will get a handshake to what camera angle the media have to how long it takes to drive from one site to another.

Details. Does the sun reflect blindingly off a building at precisely the hour the candidate will be on the podium? Is there a backup site in case of rain? (An advance person often carries a heavy-duty garbage bag folded up in one pocket for use as an emergency poncho.) Will a volunteer actually work, or turn out to be just a clutcher? (A clutcher is someone who wants to glom onto the candidate.)

Protesters and hecklers are always a problem. You need people in the crowd ready to block nasty signs with their own banners. Jim King once advanced Robert F. Kennedy in Indianapolis after the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination, when rioting had started in cities across the country. Instead of a stage, King used a flatbed truck for Kennedy's speech, with a driver standing a few feet away, keys in the ignition. Any trouble, they'd just slowly roll away.

This summer at the Democratic convention, Ted Kennedy spoke at the Human Rights Campaign rally and some antiabortion folks sneaked in and caused a disruption--a woman shouted, "What about the babies?" and a man got onstage and grabbed the mike and started to talk about abortion, all while the cameras were rolling.

Doherty, Kennedy's advance man, jumped onstage and wrestled with the protester, but couldn't move him, until finally Kennedy himself came up, grabbed the mike--which instantly enervated the intruder.

"Yes, you have every right to say what you want to say, but we have every right not to listen," Doherty remembers Kennedy saying. The crowd cheered. Afterward the senator ribbed Doherty mercilessly, said Doherty was supposed to be the A-team, the big strong advance man, didn't see it coming.

"I had to save the day!" Kennedy crowed. The advance man always gets the blame.

But the politicians know good advance from bad advance. In Doherty's office is a picture of Ted, John and Robert Kennedy, signed by Ted: "To Chris: The one person I'd always share a foxhole with."

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