Building a Pyramid of Persuasion

For most of the day Saturday, the rotunda area just outside the convention floor of the Springfield Civic Center buzzed with activity. Each presidential campaign had a trailer stationed as its convention headquarters in that area, and strategists and delegates swarmed through to browse and brainstorm before the presidential preference vote.

Shortly after 4 p.m., the final tallies from the straw poll were announced, and the area was largely deserted. A pack of reporters rushed by to catch a press conference by representatives of former Vice President Walter F. Mondale--the winner of the non-binding vote. The jubilant chants of the organized labor delegates from the convention floor could be heard, as that bloc celebrated its victory in getting one-fourth of the delegates to vote for "jobs" instead of a candidate. In the middle of the rotunda, about 20 supporters of Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) hugged and kissed each other as their candidate showed surprising strength, finishing third.

Ohio Senator John Glenn came in fourth. In the Winnebago trailer decorated with Glenn sings, Richard S. Sloan, intently chewing gum, tersely discussed the results over the phone. After hanging up, the serious-looking, youngish aide turned to the one reporter waiting for comment. Anticipating the question, he said simply: "We are pleased with our showing here...we hoped to build an organization and we have started that process."

That building process started four weeks ago, when Sloan moved into the state as New England regional coordinator for the campaign. Since then, he has shaped the elaborate strategy directed toward the Springfield convention.

Just like the other five campaigns, the national Glenn staff had to decide, before making any phone calls or sending any fliers, how much to focus its overall effort on the event. It was, after all, a nonbinding early poll, and the significance of the skirmish in the long battle for the Democratic nomination--or even the endorsement of the Massachusetts party--was unclear from the start. And, as Sloan explained, the Federal Election Commission has set a limit on what each candidate can spend per state. The decision was to spend about $20,000 and take the middle ground--not to go all out and try to win, nor to ignore it, but to start up a Glenn base.


Once the magnitude of the effort was set, the Glenn operatives started a flurry of pre-convention preparation. That involved two parts: lobbying delegates for their vote, and lining up reliable volunteers to build up the vote total at the convention. The persuasion campaign began immediately, in the form of congratulatory telegrams to all delegates selected in the ward caucuses. That was quickly followed up by a phone call to each delegates to find out where he or she stood. Then came a series of mailings detailing the Senator's on the issues.

But, as expected with the early non-binding vote, about half the delegates ventured to the Western Massachusetts meeting without yet having made up their minds. So putting in an effective structure to help sway them over to the former astronaut was crucial. The first thing the campaign did was bring the Senator into the state for a day to line up crucial endorsements. Both Massachusetts U.S. Senators had pledged neutrality, as did Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, extending that stance over his cabinet. But Glenn managed to secure a substantial number of state legislators who could be expected to hold sway over their delegations, including State Senate President William Bulger.

Simultaneously, they built up, in Sloan's words, "a pyramid of persuasion" designed to monitor the state. The campaign first divided the state into four regions, and appointed coordinators for each. Each coordinator was assigned 10 Senate district and told to find whips for each district. The whips were supposed to find Glenn support.

Ten to 15 days before the convention, all these organizers went into training under the guidance of manager Thomas Joyce. Joyce told them how to work the floor, both to make sure Glenn voters stayed with Glenn, and to try and persuade the uncommitted. Tuesday, Joyce set up shop in Springfield. On Friday, the day before the vote, the campaign flew in Glenn's "Ohio Mafia," a group of 10 Ohioans who would accompany the regional coordinators on the floor to answer questions about the senator's background and to add credence to the campaign. "Using elected officials to campaign for you is a page out of JFK's book. The delegates like that. I'm from Glenn's home state...they feel I am really a representative of the senator,' said Rep Dennis E. Eckart (D-Ohio).

No matter how elaborate the floor organization, the strategists emphasized the importance of the candidate himself. "A campaign is made of two parts--5 percent is organization, 95 percent is the candidate," said Joyce.

But actually the two end up complementing each other. The group of advisors mapped out very carefully how Glenn's limited time should be budgeted at the convention to get the most votes from it. Committed to a dinner in Ohio, he flew into Massachusetts late Friday night for a Buckeye Blast to rally supporters. (He actually arrived about an hour-and-a-half late, alienating some potential supporters). Glenn devoted his pre-balloting time to meeting with delegates. Some key groups singled out by whips would be ushered out to the trailer. At key times, he made a trip around the convention floor--surrounded by a trained advance team--to shake hands and to autograph credentials cards.

Aides also cited the crucial nature of the speech. Greg Schneiders, campaign press secretary, said that as long as four months ago, the speechwriters were alerted that the convention was coming up, and a month ago they "began to get in touch with people up here to find out how much time we have available and what sort of things are appropriate to say here." The group of advisors then sat down with Glenn and talked with him about his ideas. Two weeks ago they came up with the first draft, and it was being revised until Glenn left his trailer to go to the waiting room around 11:30 a.m.

Once the balloting began around 2:30 p.m., there was nothing left for the operatives to do, and they began to relax for the first time in days. "I have slept maybe 10 hours in the past four days." Joyce complained. But no one admitted to being upset with the end result of the whole effort. They had, as Sloan noted, established a base which they are confident will continue to grow in strength. "Not only has Glenn got the right stuff [a reference to a recent book about Glenn's 1964 orbit of the earth] but apparently he's got the right staff to reach the people." Joyce said.