The Art Of The Advance

It was a stretch for even the most resourceful advance person: a 3:30 a.m. airport rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Election Day 1988. The event was part of Michael Dukakis's last campaign trip-a mind-marinating 11-city, 48-hour cross-country sprint. Andy Paven wondered how he would lure a crowd onto a freezing tarmac at that hour. "It's not exactly the city that never sleeps," said Paven, now an aide to Democratic National Chairman Ron Brown. He spent the next five days practicing the largely unseen art of advance: enlisting help from unions and local party officials, cutting a radio spot featuring an invitation from Dukakis, placing newspaper ads, getting volunteers to distribute leaflets. Two thousand cheering Iowans turned out. It was a footnote to a campaign marked by advance mishaps (like Dukakis's infamous ride in an M-1 tank) but also the kind of memory that buoys an advance person's spirit. "You go into a city, get your event done and leave," Paven says with satisfaction. "And nobody knows who the advance person was.

Before George Bush or Bill Clinton show up anywhere this fall, the Andy Pavens of the campaign world will be there first. Their objectives: big, heckler-free crowds, camera-friendly speech sites that reinforce the* campaign's message-and mastery of the thousand niggling details that can embarrass a candidate if left unattended. That means making sure the right local VIPs ride in the candidate's limo from the airport, that the high-school band shows up, that the sound system doesn't suddenly short out. (Clinton's advance team took the heat last week when the candidate's microphone failed to work during three different events.) It's a subspecialty that evolved with the modern campaign, coming of age with hard-driving operatives who boosted John Kennedy to the 1960 Democratic nomination. "You're trying to communicate with pictures, gestures and settings," says Jim King, who advanced for Kennedy's brother Bobby during his 1968 run for the presidency.

Shoddy advance work can hamstring a campaign-or a presidency. When a Bush advance team scouted Faith, N.C., as the site for a Fourth of July visit by the president, it either didn't know-or didn't care-that the town (population: 552 whites and one Laotian was the site of two Ku Klux Klan rallies last year. Last week a visit to Pine Bluff, Ark., by a trio of first-tier Bush-Quayle surrogates (including former White House chief of staff Sam Skinner and Labor Secretary Lynn Martin) turned into a fiasco when local business people recruited to trash Clinton gave talks about their problems getting financing from local banks. One store owner said he thought Clinton had been a good governor, that he had always voted for him and planned to do so again in November. "As far as I know, he's done exactly what he said he would do," said Lewis Yancy. "I don't think we've had a better governor." After the event, Charlie Black a Bush-cam senior adviser, admitted that "we could have been better organized."

Advance has never been a Bush hallmark. Shortly after a listless campaign event in 1988, newly installed campaign chairman James Baker bluntly told the then vice president: " You know what? Your advance sucks." Others suffered from the same problem. Earlier that same year Bush's chief rival for the Republican nomination, Bob Dole, thought he was going to Orlando, Fla., to give a major policy speech. He ended up at a deserted, windblown movie-studio construction site for an unfortunate photo op with Woody Woodpecker, Mae West, Charlie Chaplin and Frankenstein's monster-an event that kept caption writers busy for days. The real horror show was Dole's campaign organization. "What did you think of the tour of the vacant lot?" the hapless candidate asked afterward.

Bad advance can cause even bigger problems. In 1985 Ronald Reagan's aide Michael Deaver and a White House advance team surveying a cemetery near Bitburg, Germany, missed the snow-covered graves of World War II SS soldiers. Reagan visited the site despite their discovery, triggering a bitter international debate over the wisdom of the trip that reopened some of the wounds of the second world war.

As the 1992 campaign heads into the final weeks, both sides are bolstering their advance staffs. Baker, making the same conclusion as in 1988, has added several veteran Republican operatives to the White House team. The Clinton campaign hired Hollywood producer Mort Engelberg which have included carefully lit hay-bale sets and evocative small-town backdrops. The campaign recently held a two-day " advance school" at its Little Rock Ark. head quarters. The sessions drew a cross section of more than 300 attorneys, public-relations experts, lobbyists and Hill staff on leave and eager for a foot in the door of a possible new administration. But Andy Paven recommends that those looking for a fast career track in politics should pick another job:"If you can do advance, people don't want you to do anything else."