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Meeting in a Place That’s Small, Short, Long, Flat: That’s Intimacy

August 12, 1996

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A made-for-television convention is being watched on television _ even by those who are there. Many of the 20,000 Republicans in the convention center have to watch a screen if they want to see.

``Intimate″ is the word convention managers use. Other words also come to mind: small, short, long and skinny. Imagine a shoebox, that’s the convention hall’s shape.

``I’ll tell you,″ said Jerry Dondero of Las Vegas, a Republican National Convention delegate, `it does have a low ceiling, and the spectator area is not the best I’ve seen. The delegates and alternates seem to be in pretty good shape but it’s not in the best interests of the spectators and others.″

``If I weren’t nearsighted I could see better,″ said Jack Barnes, a retired atomic physicist from Santa Fe, N.M., a spectator in a guest seat. ``It is a peculiar layout.″

Two huge screens over the podium provide a blown-up picture of the speakers. Throughout the hall, smaller screens show the proceedings to those on the sidelines _ and, with this layout, lots of folks are on the sidelines. Some behind a pillar can’t see the podium at all.

The convention center is one-third the size of the Astrodome in Houston, where the Republicans last met.

The ceiling is only 27 feet high, so low that Thursday night’s traditional balloon drop could end in nanoseconds. Convention adviser Michael Deaver let The Wall Street Journal in on how that would be dealt with: a balloon rise.

At the moment thousands of balloons are released from their nets in the ceiling, he said, thousands of helium-filled balloons will rise from the floor.

Could balloon gridlock result, with the waving, smiling candidates engulfed in balloons that are unable to rise or fall?

Stay tuned.

Last May, with the nomination locked up, Bob Dole visited the hall and offered his own deadpanned solution: ``very small balloons.″

``The sky boxes are going to be pretty low sky boxes,″ Dole observed.

Said David Albert, the convention design and construction director, ``It will be an intimate convention.″

Still, many delegates didn’t sound unhappy.

One made the point that the low podium _ six feet from the floor _ removed craned necks as a problem.

``A perfect place,″ exclaimed Virginia White of Okemos, Mich., an alternate delegate attending her third Republican convention and sitting in an aisle seat.

``Tears were running down my eyes when they played `God Bless America,′ and, I got autographs from Christie Whitman, Newt Gingrich and Howard Baker.″ They are the governor of New Jersey, the speaker of the House and a former senator from Tennessee.

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