The energy inside a national political convention is a monstrous kitschy roar; streamers, oversized banners, confetti and glitter abound. The exuberant vibe is something of a cheerleader’s dream. Reese Price is just that cheerleader and he has agreed to let us watch him at work. The spritely Texan farmboy-turned-political fixer has a very special role to play here at the Republican National Convention as he walks about greeting everyone in his soothing Southern drawl.
“My job is to help a politician look their best,” Reese offers, “by showing the world the diversity of their supporters. Sometimes that’s harder than putting a pig in a dress!” He chuckles jovially exhibiting the kind of charm that has obtained him work with as many Democrats as Republicans. He has staged political rally photographs and campaign crowds for the likes of Hillary Clinton, Rick Perry, and even Barack Obama.
Price bounds onto the convention floor wearing a tightly fitted vintage pinstripe Giorgio Armani suit and canary-yellow ascot. A streak of blonde hair feathers across his mostly brown coif to dramatic effect. The afternoon rally featuring Republican candidate Mitt Romney is set to begin soon and Reese orchestrates a flowing crowd of supporters selected to sit on the bleachers for the cameras. Screaming into his bullhorn he comes off as a cross between a harried high school drama teacher and a cheerleading community organizer. Every few minutes he stands back directing and redirecting the crowd, using the supporters as a sort of paint for his canvas. He calls his designs “Crowds by Reese.”
“[My strategy] really depends on the client’s needs,” Reese explains. “Are they going for that working-class look or the urban thing. Whatever it is, I can do it.” He waves off one of his assistants as she attempts to sit an older African American couple together. Reese instructs her to move the woman across the stage toward another cluster of older women, leaving her husband with two younger African American men.
“I find a lot of people are uncomfortable when they have to talk about race,” says Reese. “So to make it simple I just use candy. For example here at the RNC, it’s all about adding raisins to your oatmeal cookie.” Price explains this as adding more African Americans, or “raisins,” in crowds that are often predominantly White, or “oatmeal” looking.
“You can never have enough raisins at the RNC to be honest,” he continues. “Sometimes you want to put the raisins in clusters like, say if you’re at a small town hall. But at big events like this I usually spread them out, to make it look like there’re a lot of different raisins in the room. Even when it’s not true.” He chuckles again and soon turns his attention back to directing the final batch of the audience members being led on stage to stand behind Mitt Romney. He scolds another assistant for directing a Latino family to the front of the crowd and the family is moved to the back.
“Everybody needs some help sending the right message when it comes to crowds. For Democrats it’s more about adding some ‘Red Hots’ to your ‘jelly beans.'” He leans in to whisper carefully, “You know, Latinos,” before turning again to gaze at his work. The crowd is now almost complete. “You don’t need the ‘Red Hots’ so much at the Republican rallies,” he offers definitively.
Price says he loves his job because it offers him an opportunity to meet lots of different sorts of people. When asked if there is any truth to the allegations that he acquires the diversity in his crowds by paying the so-called supporters a fee, Price flatly denies it.
“Absolutely not. These supporters are out here to show their support of Mitt Romney and his ideas.” Shortly before the rally begins, the older African American man whose wife was moved earlier paints a different picture.
“Well my wife and I have been standing behind politicians for ten years now,” William Garrett says. “I was the man standing behind Hillary when she said, ‘Shame on you, Barack Obama.’ It’s a living.” When asked if he supports Mitt Romney Mr. Garrett is blunt, “I support Ben Franklin, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, that’s who I support. And they support my wallet. Shit.”
Standing backstage as the candidate takes the stage, a nervous Reese looks on proudly at his work and his throng of assistants gleefully pat him on the shoulder in turn.
“People like to cast aspersions on my work,” Reese says thoughtfully, “but at the end of the day it’s all about bringing a politician together with his people. It’s about love really.” When confronted with another allegation that his work helps create a false image of these politicians, Reese puffs his chest and adjusts the blonde streak in his hair like a riled peacock.
“I don’t accept that. When the Native Americans were running things they used to use smoke to tell each other when everything was copasetic. That’s what I’m doing. I send smoke signals to people for democracy. It’s like, ‘Hey y’all, this politician can hang with you.’ Sometimes that’s true, sometimes it’s not. But that’s up to the politician, not me.”
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