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Enormous Changes at the Last Minute: Campaign Schedulers Struggle To Cope

November 11, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Imagine juggling 500 RSVPs. Or being stuck at Chicago’s O’Hare airport while the clock ticks down on an important speech your boss is going to give.

For people like Jean Diemunsch, Richard Sullivan and Gretchen Hasper, these nightmares are day-to-day realities.

They’re people who keep track of where presidential candidates are supposed to be at any given time - with an emphasis on the word ″supposed.″

On a moment’s notice - which is what they generally get - these campaign schedulers can yank open their anxiety closet, rummage around a bit and come up with memories that give them clammy palms.

″He was stuck on the ground for hours in a plane at O’Hare,″ says Sullivan, who helps put together times and places for Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. ″And once we forgot about the time difference between El Paso and the rest of Texas.″

″You realize people want him in two places at the same time,″ says Hasper, an assistant scheduler for Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y. ″Or more than two.″

″I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder if he got there all right,″ says Diemunsch, who works for former Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona, a Democrat. ″And on time.″

Theoretically, the candidate’s schedule is mapped out weeks or even months in advance. But changes have a way of happening at the last moment. And when they do, they can set off the dreaded domino effect - late for one event, late for a dozen events.

″We had to charter a private jet to get him back in time for a vote,″ says Dick Deerin, chief scheduler for Sen. Albert Gore Jr., D-Tenn.

″There was a fire on board his plane, and it had to turn back,″ says Diemunsch.

The schedulers say they get used to seeing a carefully crafted plan fall to pieces.

″It’s a juggling act, and it never stops,″ says Teresa McManimon, who works for Republican Alexander M. Haig Jr.

″It’s never like clockwork, but you cope,″ says Deerin of the Gore campaign.

Even without last-minute glitches, long-term scheduling is difficult. The schedulers are confronted daily with conflicting demands. At any time, says Hasper of the Kemp campaign, there are 500 or 600 pending invitations. And they all need answering.

There are tricks of the trade, and schedulers learn them fast. Diemunsch says she knows the backroad routes to tiny towns in New Hampshire she hadn’t heard of a few months ago.

But none of the schedulers expects things will get easier as they go along - on the contrary. The entourages will get bigger. The weather will get worse. The states on the schedule will multiply.

″It’s kind of thankless, because when things go right, no one thinks about the schedule,″ says Sullivan. ″Then something goes wrong, and the sharks start circling.″

″Once we gave him a 23-hour day by mistake,″ Sullivan noted. ″He said he was a little tired.″

Nobody likes to break the bad news when the candidate is running late for a steak fry or isn’t going to make it to a county fair.

″I just try to be as honest as I can, and let people know we’re trying our best to get him there,″ says Elizabeth White of Pete du Pont’s campaign. ″Ninety-nine percent of the time, they’re really understanding.″

When they talk about their work, the schedulers use words like frenzied. Chaotic. Crazed. Nerve-racking.

But they also say they wouldn’t have missed it for anything. There is a certain satisfaction, they say, in creating order out of chaos, in turning scrawled notations on the calendar into real events.

″It’s really rewarding,″ Sullivan says.

″It’s invigorating,″ says Hasper.

″I can’t talk now,″ says Eileen Maroney, a scheduler for du Pont. ″I have a schedule to get out.″

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