Strategists share campaign experiences

October 31, 2008 7:30:56 PM PDT
Most of us can only imagine how intense the last few days of a presidential campaign can be -- long days, and sleepless nights. Two Bay Area men who've had firsthand experience on national campaigns share their stories.

Republican Bob Gardner and Democrat Chris Lehane are watching the 2008 presidential campaign from a distance, but they know exactly what it's like to be inside the pressure cooker during the final days.

"No matter what side you're on, there's lots of vodka and very little sleep," said Gardner.

"They've all lost weight, they've all lost hair," said Lehane.

Lehane has worked in presidential campaigns since 1988 including Bill Clinton's races in '92 and '96. He served as Al Gore's spokesperson in 2000.

"I remember I was on the plane with Al Gore in 2000 and we did not sleep for 96 hours," said Lehane.

Lehane says if you want to understand where the race is as it nears the end, follow the candidate -- not just to the individual states, but to specific areas of the state.

"If Obama is in Virginia and he's in North Virginia, he's trying to appeal to the base. If he's in Richmond and Norfolk, where he's been in the last couple of days, he thinks he can impact some Republican types of voting districts," said Lehane.

Both camps are thinking about last minute gaps they may need to cover according to Gardner.

He created the media strategy for President George H.W. Bush's campaigns and in 1976 for Gerald Ford, Gardner devised what was then an unusual last minute move -- a television show.

"We went to 15 states in eight days and put on a half-hour show. We called it President 'Ford's Travelling TV circus'," said Gardner.

A novel and creative idea, but not enough to put Ford back in the White House.

As the clock ticks down, the candidates are out front, the staffers are behind the scenes working what's called the ground game -- getting out the vote.

"At this point you're looking at everything, you're grasping at straws, looking at all the national polls of which there are many, but also you're looking primarily at you internal polls," said Gardner

The 24/7 intensity can lead to glitches, like when 'Joe the Plumber' failed to materialize at a McCain rally.

Exhaustion takes a toll on everyone, the candidates and their staff.

"Literally every minute becomes an hour every hour becomes a day," said

"Every day, every hour, every minute, there's enormous tension at this point," said

And then it's all over after November 4th.


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