Before The Spin Room, Campaigns Pre-Wash The Press

“What else do you have to do?”

HEMPSTEAD, New York — With the traditional post-debate spin room arriving far too late to effect a media consensus formed instantly on Twitter, the Romney and Obama campaigns debuted a new frontier in political media management here today: The pre-wash.

Reporters began arriving in the vast Hofstra University gymnasium Tuesday morning, some of them a full 12 hours in advance of the 9:00 p.m. debate. And officials of both campaigns and parties Tuesday afternoon promptly to work on the blue carpet, trying to put them in just the right state of mind to appreciate their respective candidates. They deployed surrogate after surrogate — senators, governors, strategists, and flacks — simply to keep reporters occupied.

“We’re doing this because you’re here writing about it,” quipped Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus — an answer echoed, almost word-for-word, by surrogates of both parties.

“What else do you have to do?” asked an Obama campaign aide.

The mission: “raising expectations for the other guy, managing expectations for ourselves,” said Romney aide Kevin Madden.

The pre-wash (a laundry metaphor coined by the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner to anticipate the spin cycle) was a marked departure from the two previous debates this cycle. In Denver and at the vice presidential debate in Danville, Ky. the spin was almost entirely contained to the period after the debate. And after Obama’s dismal performance in the first contest, the president’s campaign only deployed five staffers to talk to reporters.

By 8 p.m. Tuesday, more twice that had already interacted with reporters, excluding the usual communications staffers. Indeed, the Obama campaign has brought 22 official surrogates to the debate site, a number dwarfed by the 37 Republican surrogates here.

Among the pre-washers at the campaign laundromat:

For Obama: Howard Dean, Robert Gibbs, Stephanie Cutter, Jim Messina, Cecile Richards, Martin O’Malley, John Kerry, Chris Van Hollen, and Antonio Villaraigosa.

For Romney: Rob Portman, George Pataki, Peter King, Eric Fehrnstrom, John Sununu, and Bob McDonnell.

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