Notes From Inside the GOP Convention

McCain's Last, Best Shot
Notes from different corners of the world.
Sept. 4 2008 6:44 PM

Notes From Inside the GOP Convention

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She killed it.

That, at least, was the verdict here this morning after Sarah Palin's speech. Now, to be fair, critics at a convention run roughly the same risks as Yankees fans at Fenway. But in this instance, the reviews are genuinely, toss-your-straw-boater-in-the-air enthusiastic. Palin, who was a mystery to most until yesterday (people were so stunned on the day of her announcement that it was hard to make a clear-headed judgment), walked onto the stage and gave the people what they wanted.

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Pumped up by the governor's unique mix of red meat and relatability, convention-goers burst out of the Xcel Center and headed off to parties. Interestingly, despite stern briefings from law enforcement on how to get safely out of the convention hall, the protesters were noticeably absent as everyone filed out. As an amateur anarchistologist, I assumed that, in addition to early mornings and rain (see previous posts here and here), the pee-bombers disdain late nights. However, it turns out that there was a Rage Against the Machine reunion show that, despite this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase whatever it is the protesters believe in, proved irresistible.

The hottest ticket of the night for people not predisposed to assaults upon their bodies or their ears was Super Diamond, a Neil Diamond cover band whose moment might finally have arrived, given the real Neil's recent problems. But the big winners in the what-did-you-do-last-night sweepstakes were the folks who simply returned to the hotel. After a brief trip upstairs for a breather, Sarah herself made an unexpected visit to the lobby bar. She walked into the room to a standing ovation and proceeded to shake every hand she could.

As a result of the gov's pop-in, there's nervousness among the in-crowd today. The biggest party of the week is this evening's Google/Vanity Fair bash. It's not totally clear how this became the "It" event—maybe people here think it'll bear some passing resemblance to the real Vanity Fair Oscar party. (I'm guessing no.) Or perhaps it's because the hosts made it really hard to actually get your ticket even if you scored an invite. (This morning I stood in line between Jeff Greenfield and a big-time corporate CEO, who didn't dare send their assistants.) Either way, the question being debated right now is, Should you skip it on the chance McCain and/or Palin do another drop-by?

Speaking of McCain, he spent much of the day preparing for the speech he'll give in a few hours, venturing out only for a walk-through at the Xcel Center. McCain surveyed the revamped podium he'll be using for this town hall of all town halls and chatted happily with his family and his two Senate amigos Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham.

As he did, a number of aides from the 2000 campaign watched from the wings, reflecting on this longest and strangest of trips. One veteran remembered driving John around Arizona in her small Toyota, squeezing in as many events as they could during his visits home. Another told a story about John driving him to the airport to make a flight in his old red Caddy, fighter-pilot fast. People laughed about the impossibility of keeping up with the boss as he dove into crowds, no matter the size—signing books, taking pictures, swapping stories. Or about the fun of trying to track down good Chinese or barbecue restaurants in some city you didn't know.

All of those things, of course, are in the past. Now there are motorcades and Secret Service agents, schedulers and advance men, to smooth the way. You couldn't do it without them; a presidential campaign, come the general election, is far too large and complicated. But, as anyone who knows McCain understands, he'd be just as happy without all the trappings. For him, that kind of stuff is the price, not one of the perks, of finally being able to have this chance.

And that's why, I think, there was a special joy among the people who had seen him through some very good times, as well as some very bad ones, when he walked onto that stage. All of them had made sacrifices of their own—as the senator had a final look at the hall, aides took pictures and talked about how all the missed birthdays and weddings and kids' first days of school were worth it. Because no matter what happens in the next 60 days, they get to be right here, sharing the moment when the boss walks onto that stage, does that smile and wave that they all lovingly imitate, and gets the shot that he—and they—have always wanted.

Craig Turk, formerly a lawyer for John McCain, is a television writer based in Los Angeles and an informal adviser to McCain.

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