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Others Sweat; GOP Glows

August 02, 2000|Fay Fiore and Steve Chawkins

End of Day Two of Republican Convention 2000 and the truth is beginning to sink in.

Absolutely nothing spontaneous is likely to happen inside this choreographed four-day jubilee that would risk breaking the spirit of Republicans hellbent on harmonic convergence.

Unlike the days of old when party conventions actually decided the nominee, this one is planned to the last comma on the homemade signs. Delegates are instructed by party leaders to stay "positive, positive, positive"--never mind that the protests outside are getting negative, negative, negative.

Those placards you see bobbing around on television are pre-approved and waiting on the folding chairs when delegates arrive. And the red and blue salami-shaped bats revelers are whacking together come complete with instructions: "To make noise: bang together lengthwise."

What business the GOP will actually transact in the next four days would take 20 minutes--a roll call of states to nominate George W. Bush. But that is not the point anymore. This is an Amway convention, a four-day pep rally designed to rev up voters and recast the party image. The only thing vaguely reminiscent of the old days is the haze in the air. Once it came from cigars puffed on by party bigs; now it comes from eight fog machines set up by Los Angeles lighting designer Bill Klages to transform ordinary lights into "Star Wars"-like lasers.

There is an indomitability to the conventioneers' glee; they think they taste a winner this time. Not the heat, humidity nor the challenge of getting around the nation's fifth-largest city gets them down.

Asked about the weather that was wilting the bows on her starred-and-striped earrings outside Independence Hall, Colorado delegate Sharon Johnson chirped: "It makes you glisten and shine."

There's Some Life in This Party

In the convention arena, revelers were asked to stand still for two minutes while a panoramic camera took a class picture, even while the band played a hopping version of Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues."

Nobody hopped. Onetime GOP speech writer Peggy Noonan had the only plausible explanation: "They know Republicans can't move to music."

But that doesn't mean these Republicans aren't turning out to be regular party animals. For evidence, look no farther than Roy W. Fletcher, who opened a Tuesday morning news conference lamenting his hangover.

Late of the McCain campaign and now strategist for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell of San Jose, Fletcher stepped gingerly to a hotel podium to explain Campbell's new ad campaign.

"I'm not full of energy this morning," the bearish native of Baton Rouge, La., confessed to a room full of reporters. "I had a little bout with John Barleycorn last night and he seemed to have won."

"Oh geez," groaned Campbell, so strait-laced he is one of the last remaining humans to regularly use the word "poppycock."

A Close-Up View, and It Isn't Pretty

As you sit in your armchair, sipping a beer and watching the Republican celebration of the decade during prime time, perhaps you wonder what it actually feels like down there on the convention floor. So here goes: It's smaller than it looks; it's hot; it's hard to hear; the aisles are jammed with bodies so the only view is straight ahead. The balloons in the ceiling look like red, white and blue honeycombs waiting to drop on your head. The blue carpet is an electric, Oval Office blue; the cherry red carpet gets dirtier every day. Nearly everyone is sweating. Precious floor passes turn into fans. Everywhere, there are familiar TV faces in heavy makeup that gives them a weird, unnatural appearance.


But Do They Know 'Cat in the Hat'?

In the foreign press tent Tuesday, they were sifting through the remnants of Laura Bush's speech, trying to figure out what she was talking about. The text was so full of homey, American allusions it escaped some of the most English-proficient reporters from abroad. Most confusing was the reference to W. reading a Dr. Seuss book to his twin daughters.

"What is thees 'Hop on Pop'?" a journalist from Guinea inquired.

The late Dr. Seuss, by the way, once declared himself a "left-leaning Democrat." One can only imagine his reaction to this convention.

BITS and PIECES: Who says there's no money in politics? Phil Collins, a pizza deliveryman from Oceanside, won $5,000 in a political Web site's contest by identifying Dick Cheney as George W. Bush's running mate. Collins, a convention volunteer, made the pick three months before W. did. . . . Plans are being laid by the Democratic Socialists of America for a Dance Party and Capitalist Pig Roast to cap a week of protest. Suggested donation is $25, but it drops to $15 "with proof of arrest. . . . It takes eight buses and six vans to move California's giant-sized convention crew--162 delegates, 162 alternates, 250 guests and who-knows-how-many media--around the city. Wyoming's tiny team, by comparison, needs one bus. But since they claim the v.p. candidate in waiting, they get more attention.

Times staff writers Greg Krikorian, Megan Garvey, Richard Simon, Dana Calvo and Albert Lee contributed to this story.

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