The Visit of a Lifetime
Last Thursday was a very exciting evening for Maryland Republicans. Our validity as a meaningful primary state was made significant by a visit from the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, John McCain; but this visit didn’t happen entirely by accident.
The back-story begins in May 2007 when the Baltimore County Republican Party made the scheduling decision to change their annual Lincoln Day Dinner from its traditional time slot of late April. The hope was to place our dinner between Super Tuesday and the Maryland Primary Day a week later in hopes of landing a whale.
Going after the big fish takes time, patience, a little luck and some expensive bait. Presidential campaigns are like the local county commissioner or General Assembly races; they are looking to maximize candidate time and opportunity – except across an entire country.
Several months ago I started making calls to friends of friends who were staffers on presidential campaigns. Relationships were rekindled and introductions were made. A case for the importance of Maryland’s post Super Tuesday primary was made; however, there was still no bite.
About the time of the New Hampshire primary, our committee received word that one campaign would not be visiting no matter what our status. It was disappointing because he was presumably our best chance for a candidate at that time. We continued to keep hope that Maryland would be relevant in the Republican presidential primary race.
One week out from our event date our committee met and resigned ourselves that we would be without a national player. The large 1,000-person hall was taken off hold and the smaller facility was told to order food and linens for 150 persons.
We planned our program booklet and started down a path toward a small but typical dinner. Little did we know big changes would occur Sunday afternoon.
Super Bowl Sunday I received a call from the national committeeman for the Maryland Republican Party, Louis Pope. He said that we were “green lighted” for a visit from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. That call was followed by a dozen calls from Romney staff and advance personnel.
Baltimore County’s Republican Party was soon to find out the requirements for a national figure were, in fact, presidential in size and cost. Professional lighting, sound and staging would be needed. Media coordinators and meetings with advance staffers would need to be scheduled. The national press corps would be descending on a small American Legion Post in Arbutus; and it would cost us to be ready.
By Wednesday morning word was out that Governor Romney was coming and that the event would be properly prepped for media. My phone again rang and an old friend said Senator McCain wanted to come visit the Republicans in Baltimore County, too. Wow! Two competing whales on the line at the same time.
We then negotiated timing of Senator McCain’s arrival to be ahead of Governor Romney’s, laid out a plan to meet the morning of the event, and discussed the venue. Everything was in place for Arbutus to be the center of the Republican universe Thursday evening.
Thursday – just after noon – Governor Romney suspended his campaign. Within an hour I received a very gracious call stating that he would not attend and that Senator McCain should have the stage alone. Naturally I understood and was very pleased that now our dinner would have the first speech by the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party that evening.
Our evening was a whirlwind. A crowd of cheering supporters outside, a packed house of 360 people inside, a gaggle of national press with cameras lit, reporters and still photographers everywhere. Everyone was awaiting the three vehicles to pull up to the entrance.
Senator McCain was escorted and later introduced by former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich and his wife, Kendall. The senator’s speech was about 20 minutes long and excellent in content. His entrance and exit from the room was presidential, shaking hands with both hands at the same time, smiling, signing autographs and greeting VIP’s and a few old friends. Soon he was gone.
I’ve met presidents, vice presidents, governors, senators and representatives of Congress before; however, this was my first opportunity to plan, as a host, for such a visit. For most in the room this was the first time of be in the thick of media, close to a presidential candidate and a new experience; I’m happy for them.
My joy extends also to the fact that two Republican presidential contenders looked to Maryland and a local county function as an opportunity to show that Republicans in Maryland are relevant; and that Maryland – in its primary – can be an important player.