GOP insiders are working to divvy up lucrative convention ‘pie’

On Thursday, we gave you an inside look at some of the logistical preparations for next year’s for the Republican National Convention. (I also proposed sequestering our tacky Mary Tyler Moore statue during the event.) Last night, you may have seen me elaborate on that report on Fox9’s 10 p.m. news.

Today, we’ll look at the people working the hardest right now to sell the Twin Cities — longtime GOP insiders who know our state cold. So far, there are four major players in the GOP insider event-seeking business. All the groups agree that there is plenty of business to go around, but each has developed a slightly different pitch.

One group is Take ’08 Events Unlimited. The Minnesota principals are Erich Mische, longtime top aide to U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman; John Milne, former 3M federal affairs lobbyist; Al Shofe, former chief of staff to former GOP Congressman Gil Gutknecht and longtime tobacco lobbyist; Ryan Kelly, son of (and former campaign manager for) former St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly; and Debra Anderson, former Bush White House deputy assistant to the president and a former commissioner in the Carlson Administration.

Mische found a niche in supplying Coleman with highly produced campaign events, and his group is focusing on selling the local angle. “Our group wants the convention to be successful from a parochial point of view. We want the Twin Cities to be known as doing a bang-up job on this thing,” he says.

Mische is finding that the Mississippi River is a big draw for event-seekers. Mische laughs when asked how Minnesota can compete with the cuisines of New York (four-star restaurants, countless delis and Harlem soul food, Boston (seafood), and Dallas and Houston (where Tex-Mex was featured at the GOP conventions in 1984 and 1992). “People’s eyes light up when I say Minnesota can provide anything anyone wants better than any other place can,” he says.

Another group is Twin Cities Strategies where the Minnesota players are Vin Weber, a former congressman and Washington lobbyist; Joe Weber, a public affairs consultant, Gregory Johnson, former special assistant to Gov. Tim Pawlenty; Jack Meeks, former RNC member and current lobbyist; Annette Meeks, former aide to then House Speaker Newt Gingrich and current Metropolitan Council member; and Chris Tiedeman, a public affairs consultant.

Brags the group’s website, “No other firm in Minnesota has relationships on K Street, on Capitol Hill or across the country that are as deep and varied as ours. Through these extensive relationships, we are able to maximize our clients’ lobbying objectives. Our ability to reach out to local and national VIPs is unrivaled. We can deliver ‘star-power’ to clients that desire marquee events.”

Joe Weber also notes that in terms of national convention experience, his group includes people like Jack and Annette Meeks (Minnesota’s power GOP couple), who have experience in either paid or high-profile appointed positions at national conventions dating to 1968. “We get the complications,” says Weber.

Twin Cities Strategies recently landed one of Minnesota’s most important interest groups, the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, now chaired by Joe Swedberg from Hormel. Weber predicts that Agri-Growth will have “a major event to showcase Minnesota agricultural products and technology to the world.” This group’s heretofore secret selling weapon is the downtown parking lots, many of which have some of the finest views in the city. Picture big tents on them with State Fair-like booths offering food on a stick.

GOP Convention Strategies was organized by Scott Cottington, a Minnesota-based but nationally renowned political consultant, and Steve Knuth, founder of Minnesota and D.C.-based government relations firms. (Like the other groups, GOP Convention Strategies has other Washington-based partners not named here.) This group has specialized its pitch to address the perceived wasteful spending that happened at some 2004 events.

“We are trying to deliver the biggest bang for the buck,” says Cottington, and “we help explicitly refine how to sell ideas, highlight issues and make connections.” Because many of the people who make the decisions on what events to sponsor live and work in Washington, GOP Convention Strategies is holding seminars there. So far, they’ve held two briefings, each of which drew more than 100 people. “Besides the confusion over what the new spending rules are, we’re finding that there is a general lack of knowledge about Minnesota.”

The fourth player is ASI Communications. This existing public relations/public affairs consulting group includes Pat Rosenstiel, nationally recognized public affairs consultant public affairs executive; Buck Humphrey, former Minnesota DFL secretary of state candidate; and Patrick Connolly, ASI’s director of public affairs.

ASI is selling package deals for events at the GOP convention here and the Democratic one in Denver. The company designed the Host Committee’s official logo and has a client list that “includes Fortune 100 companies and regulated industries.”

At this point, all the firms named here are reluctant to disclose client lists, and more firms are likely to emerge as strong contenders to sell the convention.

These groups, like all those who wants to benefit from the GOP’s “economic boost,” hope that when the last delegate boards a plane out, that everyone agrees that there’s no business like GOP business.

And Mary Tyler Moore, after those four hectic convention days, can be freed and resume her place in front of Macy’s on Nicollet Mall.

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