Mitt Romney’s communication team had a good, if exhausting weekend.
After a season of gaffes—Etch A Sketch
, “kiss my ass
,” Romneycare as talking point
—the GOP candidate’s message men and women scored a victory with their unveiling of Paul Ryan as the ticket’s vice presidential pick.
As speculation about whom Romney would pick heated up, reporters, eager for a big scoop, camped outside Ryan’s home in Janesville, Wis. (The app the campaign rolled out to announce the pick
didn’t satiate their desires—go figure.)
The challenge for the Romney campaign was twofold: Coordinate a meeting between Romney and Ryan that the press wouldn’t detect; and, once the Wisconsin congressman was chosen, get him to the grand veiling under the radar of the press.
How the campaign confronted these challenges—and overcame them—reveals the inner workings of Romney’s press shop. It’s a story that communication professionals of all political stripes can appreciate for its stealth and coordination.
Senior advisor Beth Meyers told NPR
that the campaign’s vetting process began in a locked room in Boston.
“[A team of lawyers] worked in a locked room, a secure room in Boston, and we locked the materials in an individual safe each day in this room,” she said. “No copies of the materials were ever made, and all work was done in that room.”
Romney reportedly decided upon Ryan on Aug. 1, after the former governor returned from his gaffe-laden trip overseas. On Aug. 5, Romney and Ryan met in secret. According to NPR:
“Ryan—dressed in jeans, a ball cap, and sunglasses, flew from Chicago to Hartford. Myers' 19-year-old son picked him up from the airport in a rented SUV and then drove to Myers' house in Massachusetts.
“Romney then drove to her house and he met with Ryan in the Myers dining room. They emerged about an hour later. Ryan had accepted.”
The campaign planned to introduce Ryan on Friday, Aug. 10, but the congressman from Wisconsin attended a memorial for the victims of the shooting at a Sikh temple outside of Milwaukee. So the grand unveiling was pushed to Saturday.
Here was the rub: Ryan had to travel from Wisconsin to Virginia without the media detecting him. “This is where it gets a little complicated,” Myers said to reporters while recounting the story.
Cue the cloak and dagger moves, again.
Ryan returned to his Janesville home after the memorial and told reporters camped in front of his house that he was locked out. The congressman indicated he knew a way to enter his home in the back, and walked to his backyard.
According to ABC News
: “There were silhouettes of people behind the blinds at Ryan’s house watching the media circus from a 2nd story window [on Friday night]. This gave the strong impression that at least his family was still home, which clearly wasn’t the case.”
The National Journal
's Sarah Huisenga and Rebecca Kaplan continues the story
“Instead, at around 2 p.m., the seven-term congressman walked out the back door of his house and into a wooded area that bordered his property. Ryan had grown up near the woods and knew them well—crossing through the trees put him in the driveway of his childhood home, the rendezvous point. He quickly made his way through the woods—passing a childhood tree fort he had visited as a child—and was away to Waukegan, where he joined his family on a flight to Elizabeth City, N.C.
“Upon landing, the group was taken to a nearby Fairfield Inn where they were met by Myers, her husband and a small group of Romney aides."
Meanwhile, at a hotel in Norfolk, Va., Romney’s other press aides kept the media distracted—with food, booze, and stories.
BuzzFeed’s Zeke Miller explains:
“Earlier Friday, the Romney campaign had lured reporters into a false sense of security. Two top aides, Eric Fehrnstrom and Kevin Madden, dined with two reporters at the hotel restaurant, Shula’s 347 Grill. Strategist Stuart Stevens held court at the bar, telling war stories from the 2004 Bush campaign to several others. The campaign seemed to be relaxing and bracing for a busy week, and reporters had every incentive to rest as well: Madden had warned on Friday afternoon that there would be a briefing at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.
“Some reporters were finishing up their last round at the wood-paneled bar of the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. Others were asleep; at least one had just taken an Ambien.”
So all was quiet on the Romney front, and then, at 11:06 p.m., Romney communications director Gail Gitcho tweeted:
Two minutes after the tweet, according to BuzzFeed
, an email hit the inboxes of 35 reporters, saying : “MITT ROMNEY ANNOUNCES VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN NORFOLK SATURDAY.”
The advisory went out shortly after Meyers and Ryan and their respective families dined at an Applebee’s at North Carolina and put the finishing touches on the soon-to-be vice presidential candidate’s speech.
“And then I turned my phone off,” Myers told reporters.
Now the 85-day sprint to November begins.