As Vice President Cheney sought to reassure supporters here Friday that the U.S. government has launched a Herculean global effort to crush the scourge of terrorism, he repeatedly ran into a decidedly more pedestrian problem: his microphone kept cutting out.
The vice president kept tapping the mike head, tried borrowing a second one from his wife, Lynne, and at one point grabbed them both to try a two-fisted approach. "You mean like this?" Cheney said, with crowd giggles at the technical difficulties cutting into the heaviness of his dire warnings.
Sound problems are the scourge of the band of operatives who set up election rallies, town halls, roundtables and candidate coffees. Luckily for them, it's a bipartisan issue.
"Audio is probably the biggest concern," says David Grossman, an equal-opportunity stage manager and head of Political Productions Inc., which orchestrated numerous events for John Kerry, John Edwards and President Bush before today's Cheney appearance. Grossman sees his job as feeding the local and national media with the sound and images campaigns want seen by millions. Multiple wireless microphones and other problems can prevent that.
"If the sound is not usable, they do not use the sound. . . . In our business, that's bad news," Grossman said.
His workers could not get access to the hotel ballroom for set up until 11:30 p.m. Thursday, and worked through the night to ready the stage, lights and necessary sound boxes before security sweeps began. Staffers said an electrical storm during Cheney's remarks caused the hiccups. "It just happened to be that . . . frequency," one said.
Working both sides in a campaign as heated as this one can get tricky, Grossman said. There was, for example, the time earlier this week when he was putting on a Cheney rally in Michigan and got a call from a Kerry advance staffer about an Edwards event in Florida.
"He said, 'You're at a Cheney event? What are you guys working for Cheney for?'" Grossman said. "They know you do both sides, but they rib you a little bit. . . . The job itself is walking a fine line between the two parties."
That means being discreet with campaign secrets -- and his personal politics. "I keep that very, very private. People assume both ways," says Grossman. To the skeptics who decry the slick, sound-bite driven results that can occur from such highly scripted encounters, Grossman pleads good company.
"The candidates still speak the same amount of time they spoke when I started 23 years ago. Is there more pomp and circumstance? Yeah. Are they more produced? Yeah," Grossman said. "But all entertainment is more produced than it was 20 years ago."
Unless, of course, lighting strikes.