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Donna Edwards Afforded Rare Speech Opportunity at Convention

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Donna Edwards speaks at the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday.

Her next stop was the most important of the day. She was headed to the Democratic National Convention Committee headquarters, the nerve center of the convention's logistics in downtown Charlotte.

She arrived early - rare for a Member. But Edwards made clear to her staff that speech preparations took precedence over everything else.

Edwards sat in a waiting area as MSNBC blared. Her lips moved as she read and re-read a worn copy of the speech that she personally wrote in "the span of an hour and a half." It seemed as if the writing of the speech was the easiest part of it all for her.

After a few minutes, a woman named Suzanne Franchetti emerged. She had a stopwatch around her neck and ushered Edwards into the committee's "rehearsal room."

In normal circumstances, it is a windowless conference room. But today it had a podium with a microphone duct-taped onto it. Off to each side were teleprompter panels. Directly across from the podium was a head-on teleprompter and a video camera. A three-woman team in charge of the prompter sat at a table to the side.

Franchetti's job was to coach all of the speakers. With Edwards, Franchetti's first task was to put her at ease.

"Where's my gin and tonic when I need it?" Edwards joked back to her.

Then Franchetti sat Edwards in a chair and had her fill out a worksheet about her clothing choices. Franchetti warned her to avoid patterned materials because they do not translate well on television.

At this point, Obama campaign speechwriters were editing Edwards' speech from a remote location. At last, the speech loaded and practice began.

Franchetti started her stopwatch and Edwards started her speech. Franchetti monitored the performance primarily through a TV monitor.

When it was over, Franchetti looked pleased as she stared at her stopwatch.

"Three and a half minutes," Franchetti said.

The next half hour resembled how one might imagine it looks as a professional baseball player takes hitting practice. He knows what he's doing, but the coach makes small criticisms that produce a more polished product.

"That's exactly what's like," Franchetti said. "That's a good analogy."

The room teemed with Edwards' staff offering moral support, but there were also several strangers. It was an odd sight to see a politician drop her facade and take criticism constructively.

"They're professionals. They know what they're doing, and I respect that," Edwards said later. "And I felt like they wanted me to succeed."

The prompter team noted words that tripped up Edwards. Soon those words appeared underlined or capitalized in the prompter.

Edwards gave the speech a second reading. This time Franchetti stopped her often and broke down specific criticisms.

She encouraged Edwards to shift her whole body left and right when using the side prompter panels, rather than just turning her head.

"No U.S. Open!" Franchetti chimed.

Edwards read through the speech one last time, and all agreed she had improved and the session was over.

The Edwards entourage then hustled a few blocks to another Maryland event - a luncheon honoring Sargent Shriver.

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