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The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"No expense spared to showcase the message and the man"
 real 56k

banner Saturday, 29 July, 2000, 02:14 GMT 03:14 UK
Choreographing the convention
campaign diary
By BBC's Gordon Corera in Philadelphia

The First Union Center in Philadelphia was a hive of activity this weekend as it prepared for the opening of the Republican Convention on Monday.

George Bush
Bush: Hard to imagine in the jacuzzi
On Friday workmen were battling against the clock to check the sound and light systems and hoist 150,000 balloons high up to the ceiling - ready for them to fall onto the 2,000 delegates who on Thursday will hear George W Bush accept the Presidential nomination of his party.

By 6pm on Friday the work had to be completed so that the secret service could sweep the entire building and its perimeter.

Once that was done, access was restricted to holders of the right colour and much sought after floor passes, but beforehand pretty much anyone could wander in, have a look at the podium (which has the largest video screen of its type in the world) and wander backstage.

Jacuzzi

There you can find the locker room of the local basketball team who play at the Centre.

Inside the locker room is a giant jacuzzi although its hard to imagine the Bush family going for a dip as they wait for the big speech.

And upstairs you can wonder round the balcony boxes where the corporate donors who have given thousands to the campaign will be able to sit on their comfy sofas and pull a cold drink from the fridge as they watch the action on the floor.

Film extras

Apart from the builders, the main activity comes from the journalists.

Around 15,000 are coming for the Convention and the big American TV networks are already installing their skyboxes from which they will commentate on the proceedings on the Convention floor.

Conventions were once the scene of real politics as delegate decided the identity of their party's nominee and determined what policies they would run on in the election.

But now the delegates function much more like extras in a film - there to cheer and clap as Mr Bush speaks and the balloons fall.

Everything is carefully choreographed by people whose normal job it is to make films and TV shows.

The week-long extravaganza will cost about $60 million - about the cost of an average Hollywood blockbuster.

No surprises

There are still phones on the Convention floor - these are hotlines for the leader of each state delegation which used to be for party managers, who could call down and instruct them which way to vote when a contentious issue came up for discussion.

But such is the degree of orchestration at a modern convention that it is hard to imagine them being put to that use anymore.

No surprise will be allowed to cloud Mr Bush's big day.

As the conventions have turned into pure theatre and lost their suspense, they have still remained important though - the whole of America, and many others as well, will be watching the podium closely when Mr Bush comes to speak on Thursday night.

The Clinton presidency has only heightened the extent to which the occupant of the highest office acts as a showman - and as Mr Bush finally takes the stage we will be able to see how he matches up.

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