When the results of the New Hampshire primary come in this evening, millions of Americans will watch candidates on decorated sets in front of cheering supporters as they celebrate their wins, or maybe for some, celebrate their not-quite-wins. Those events don’t just happen. There’s people working like crazy behind the scenes to make sure those events go off without a hitch.
A campaign worker put down masking tape at the edge of the stage that John Kasich will take tonight – no matter what happens with the primary. Kasich advance guy Chad VonLuehrte surveyed the scene as workers ran around, still setting things up.
“The main press riser basically has a view of as ‘Kasich For Us’ banner," he said. "The governor will speak this evening from a toast lectern with a room full of several hundred supporters here in New Hampshire. About 150 members of the press corps will be in the room during that time."
The thing about making an event like this happen, is all the details. So many details.
“It is very much a meticulous process."
First, you have to find a decent venue.
“Sometimes it comes down to, you know, as you can imagine this time of year, a lot of venues are booked."
Then there’s the setting. What size and shape is the stage? How many press are coming? How big a riser will they need? What’s the lighting like? Where do the signs go? And with each one of these decisions, Vonluehrte says, you’re actually designing two different events.
The event that’s in the room is the first one. "For someone who’s a supporter that’s coming into the room, and it’s a great opportunity for them to witness some history," VonLuerte said. "And they get a certain sense and a certain feeling in the room for what it is. But beyond that, a lot of what we’re planning is for the people that are at home."
What’s it going to look like on TV?
“We talk a lot about tight shots, and what’s the tight shot look like," he said. "And that’s basically a 24 inch box around the shoulders of the candidate when they’re speaking. And a camera moves in. But when we go wide and we pull out, it looks like another event in a sense."
VonLuehrte huddled together with some of the other campaign workers to play interior decorator.
“Do you want a banner over the bleachers?" one asked.
I think we do some cover over it. Flags," he suggested.
What about the people on stage with Kasich? Should they hold little flags on sticks? American flags or New Hampshire flags?
“We can slap Kasich stickers on them or something like that," one said. "But I wouldn’t have them have any collateral.”
There’s a lot of advance guy jargon like that gets thrown around here. People don’t hold signs. They hold collateral. And how do you keep the main camera from bouncing when people walk on the riser? Of course, you use a bull nose.
“It’s basically a four by four or even a four by eight floating stage that comes away from the main press riser that houses a camera. And it’s just kind of a bull nose."
One almost certain thing about planning an event with so many details is that something is bound to go wrong. But like the good advance guy that he is, VonLuehrte didn’t want to talk about that.
“Ah… I, uh, it’s … they’re secrets, I can’t share."
If you’re doing your job right, nobody knows about the problems. Matt Borges is chairman of the Ohio Republican party, and describes himself as "a recovering advance man." He’s not recovering all that well, since he’s in charge of tonight’s Kasich event.
“If something happens, people always look to you," he said. "So rule number one is act like that’s exactly what was supposed to happen, and then very calmly go fix it."
Borges has done advance work for George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney. He and Vonluehrte agree – the single biggest event catastrophe is a power outage.
“We lost power at an event I did in Alabama once," Borges said. "Tripped a circuit while Senator McCain was speaking."
Now, he always has a backup generator ready.
“I will never put myself in that situation again ever."
So even if the power does go out tonight, you should still be able to see John Kasich speak to a crowd in front of him, and to the whole country about how he did in today’s primary.