Sen. John Edwards’ speech at the University of Nevada, Reno on Sept. 13 drew some 4,000 spectators.

Sen. John Edwards’ speech at the University of Nevada, Reno on Sept. 13 drew some 4,000 spectators.

Edwards remakes the quad
On an ordinary day, the grassy quadrangle at the University of Nevada, Reno, is a picture of tranquility. The neat expanse of sun-dappled greenery is dotted by students who enjoy the embrace of nature while catching up with their studies. On the northern end, the statue of John Mackay, the 19th century mining magnate, keeps vigil on the tree-lined plot before him, while soft hourly chimes waft from the clock tower of Morrill Hall at the southern end of the quad. But John Edwards, vice-presidential candidate, changed it all within a few hours.

From 6 a.m. Sept. 13, truckloads of paraphernalia began arriving at the quad for Edwards’ rally a dozen hours later. A stage was set up against the backdrop of Morrill Hall. A media stand was erected few yards from the stage, and barricades neatly divided the quad into sections, where the public would stand. The transformation happened fast, and those behind the scenes lauded the setting for its innate beauty.

“The quad area in the UNR couldn’t be more beautiful,” said Chris Wicker, chair of the Washoe County Democratic Party. “We are expecting typical nice fall weather and plenty of room for people to come and see. That is very important.”

Ann Sheridan, state Kerry-Edwards campaign director, agreed.

“The quad was inclusive of lots of local people, including the students,” she said, explaining why the particular venue was chosen for the rally. “[It was] accessible. Besides, UNR is close to the hearts of lots of people in northern Nevada.”

In reality, a venue for a rally must have more than just a pleasant environment.

“All presidential candidates in modern times have ‘advance teams,’ “ said Sheridan. “These folks travel to wherever the candidate is appearing and manage all the logistics of the candidate’s trip. They choose the location, work with the local staff and volunteers and the local elective officials to produce the best possible events.”

A lot of criteria, such as the capacity of the place, the background of the stage, the exact spot where the press might be positioned, are taken into account before a venue is decided upon.

“It has to be a place that is easy for people to get to,” said Sean Smith, communication director for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in Nevada. “Ideally, there should be a lot of parking space. Sometimes, there are some security issues that have to be resolved. But our advance team is quite capable of transforming just about anything.”

Supervising the progress of the set-up around midday, Wicker was paying special attention to quite a few structural matters.

“What we are looking at here is the scaffolding for the media,” he said, pointing to the high platform-like steps that were being set up nearby. “We always try to make it convenient for the media to see these events because they certainly address a broader audience than the speakers. Then we have the stage where John Edwards will stand, and there will be some other people, too, who will be there [on the stage] to watch the speech—so he is not standing up there all by himself. It just presents a better atmosphere that way.”

Barbara Speelmen, one of the technicians working on-site, was busy. She usually works at the Reno Hilton on the sound and lights for concerts, and she ably listed some of the technical issues that were being addressed to make the quad appropriate for the event.

“We had to build risers for the sound,” she said, “put the speakers up, put the sound board in and all the equipments that it hooks up to, run cables for the power, put monitors on the stage so that they [people giving the speeches] can hear themselves, and hang banners.”

The hard and fast work surely paid off. By late afternoon, there was a subtle sense of excitement with the rally about to begin.

“The bunting on the Morrill Hall is striking,” said Roger Scimé, a graduate student at UNR who was a volunteer. “It reminds me of the rallies in the ‘60s. And I hope it inspires [in others] the same sense of purpose and optimism of those days.”

Though the Democratic advance people would probably resist the comparison, the Edwards rally is very reminiscent of a spectacular 1982 Republican rally on the same spot. It featured President Reagan campaigning for local Nevada candidates and was carried live by Reno television stations.

Scimé, who drove a car in the motorcade of Al Gore in the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1996 and once stuffed envelopes for John F. Kennedy, seemed effervescent about the rally being held in a venue that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a “Jeffersonian academic village” and is built on the lines of the quad designed by Thomas Jefferson for the University of Virginia.

Wicker said the rally in the university setting has particular relevance in the present election.

“I can’t think of a better place to have a rally like this when one of the big issues is education,” he said. “The tremendous increase in tuition is one of the things the Kerry campaign addresses.”

With all the silent messages the venue might have given, the overall effect of the quad replete with all the rally paraphernalia was impressive, to say the least.

“I understand that things look good," said Sheridan from her office, just hours before Edwards and some 4,000 onlookers took to the quad. "There are always last-moment crises, but nothing that we can’t deal with. You cross your fingers and hope that your candidate is on time."