Behind the scenes at the DNC: A Georgia strategist on the ‘ugly’ side of conventions

Insider’s note: Rebecca Walldorff is a longtime Democratic strategist from Georgia who has a rare glimpse at the behind-the-scenes shenanigans at her party’s quadrennial bashes. She’s writing the occasional column for the Insider blog to shed some light on the Democratic National Convention. Here’s her first installation:

By Rebecca Walldorff:

There’s a saying that Washington is like Hollywood for ugly people.  If that’s true, then the national conventions are Washington’s version of the Oscars, except much longer and without the helpful music to queue people off stage.

Rebecca Walldorff is a political operative from Georgia with a rare behind the scenes view of convention planning. Here's a shot of her at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. Special.

Rebecca Walldorff is a political operative from Georgia with a rare behind the scenes view of convention planning. Here’s a shot of her at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. Special.

I have some firsthand experience managing the show you will be watching this week.  I was the assistant podium scheduler for the 2000 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, where we brought the ugly to Hollywood for five full days of live television. My mentor and convention guru Mike Berman trusted me so much (I surmised) that I became the primary point of contact for high-level officials.

Within 20 minutes my phone was ringing off the hook – senators, congressmen, cabinet members, governors – lobbying a then-25-year-old for a position on the speaking schedule – and a “good” prime time slot for maximum exposure. I was being pummeled. After a few breaks to cry in the bathroom, I came back to the office for more. And I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Why? What is it that drives political junkies like me?

It wasn’t just the chance to watch Al Gore make out with Tipper. I had cut my teeth in politics in my hometown of DeKalb County – the epicenter to this day of Georgia’s political contact sport.  My mother was a local activist turned DeKalb commissioner, and I spent a large portion of my childhood being dragged from meetings at the state DOT to sit-ins in Candler Park, to dinners upstairs in the game room at a smoke filled Manuel’s Tavern. By age 10, I knew what an Environmental Impact Statement was but had no clue what was on MTV.

Al Gore's infamous kiss with his wife Tipper in 2000. Screen shot.

Al Gore’s infamous kiss with his wife Tipper in 2000. Screen shot.

When I escaped the DeKalb madness for a clean start at college, I wasn’t sure what I want to study but I knew what to avoid: politics.  My youthful rebellion didn’t last long. I majored in political science and went to work for Bill Clinton’s campaign in New Hampshire right after graduation, followed by a stint in the West Wing of the Clinton White House. Twenty years later I’m still helping elected officials.

The question is: why do we do it?  Why do we keep coming back for a live show, every four years, as staff, as volunteers, as activists? And what continues to draw Americans to the spectacle? For us former staff, its more than just a reunion. It’s a mission, and maybe a validation – and a glimpse – of our idealistic younger selves.  It’s a chance to connect with people who had a similarly rare experience while working in Washington.  And it’s a way to do our democratic duty – give the American people a window onto the choice they have to make in November.

Monday starts the beginning of the Democrat’s show, in the home of the Declaration of Independence.  I’m optimistic that the theme will be about the “we” – who “hold these truths to be self-evident.”  And “we” former staff will be there, a Philly political pilgrimage.  I’m not ruling out crying again – this time in happiness to witness the first woman to be nominated for president to a major party ticket. And that, my fellow Georgians, is must see TV.

Rebecca Walldorff has held numerous positions on the national stage including in the White House, the US Senate, as Senior Advisor to Edwards for President 2004, and as Chief of Staff to Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan.  She’s come full circle and will be providing the AJC some of the behind-the-scenes tales of the Democratic Convention.


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