WASHINGTON -- After a few years' hiatus, "spin rooms" are open for business again.
You may not know the name of the campaign manager for GOP White House hopeful Rudy Giuliani -- it's Mike DuHaime -- or even recognize him.
But if you were a journalist in the spin room after the Republican presidential debate May 3 at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., you could easily find him or any of the top staffers and supporters from the competing campaigns.
Just follow the signs
All you had to do was look for the sign with his name, title and candidate. People were assigned to hold up signs for backers of better-known political figures too, such as Tom Ridge, the Pennsylvania governor and former Homeland Security chief who supports John McCain, and Bay Buchanan, the TV political commentator who is Tom Tancredo's campaign manager.
A similar surreal scene took place at the first Democratic debate at South Carolina State University in April, where the spin room was just a few yards away from the media filing center.
And with the CNN/WMUR /Union Leader debates on deck in Manchester, N.H. -- Democrats tonight and Republicans on Tuesday evening with nearly 600 journalists creditionaled to the events-- there will of course be a spin room for the post-debate spin.
For the presidential campaigns, the point of a spin room is to "shape conventional wisdom after a debate," said Erik Smith, a Democratic strategist who was press secretary for Dick Gephardt when he ran for president four years ago.
"I'm thinking, 'how do I best get into a reporter's story,' " Smith said.
Reinforcing the message
To appreciate the spectacle of a spin room, one first has to understand that post-debate spin happens very fast, in the crucial minutes after a debate. Most reporters usually face crushing deadlines and need to get through interviews very quickly. Spinners practicing damage control or seeking to influence a story line have little time.
The existence of a spin room does not guarantee favorable publicity.
Organizing a spin room is a political specialty, and Democratic consultant Jenny Backus has carved out a niche, working on the spin room for the recent MSNBC debate in South Carolina and the upcoming Manchester doubleheader.
Spin rooms give campaigns a chance to try to recoup from a debate mistake. "If something happens that needs to be clarified or rebutted, [spin rooms] offer virtually instant access to every important news outlet that covers politics," said Democratic consultant Steve McMahon, who was a senior strategist for Howard Dean in his 2004 White House race.
Responding to attacksSpinners, said McMahon, "either sharpen or extend an attack; to respond to an attack that may have been made by an opponent" or, in some cases, do very little if the candidate seems to have done well and staff "can't restate it better."
It's rare for top-tier candidates to come to spin rooms for post-debate reaction because that would send the wrong signal.
Long shots show up because they will get attention in the one-stop shopping setup.
For television, spin rooms provide standup locations and places for live shots and, most important, key spokesmen, staff and surrogates for guests.
"You can't advance book something like that," said MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, who once co-hosted a show called "The Spin Room."
Said Carlson, "You really need to grab people on the scene.''