A Lobbyist Does Double Duty While in St. Paul

Norcross Serves as Rules Chair, Delegate

Posted September 3, 2008 at 6:21pm

David Norcross’ convention experience is unlike that of almost any other lobbyist.

He is not here in the Twin Cities to shepherd clients. He’s not here to play host at private functions.

Instead, Norcross, a partner with Blank Rome’s Washington, D.C., office, has two official roles at the Republican National Convention.

First, he is a delegate from his home state of New Jersey.

And, second, he is currently chairman of the Republican National Committee’s standing committee on rules, a panel that has seen a lot of action in the past two weeks.

“We did a huge rules change,” Norcross said Tuesday, from the convention chairman’s suite at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

The change, something that had been in the works for two years, ultimately will allow the RNC to work with the Democratic Party in scheduling primary contests in each state so that the political season is more organized.

The change did not come without some late-breaking drama here on the ground.

Originally, Norcross’ committee was moving forward with a plan that would spell out when each state could hold its primaries. The committee thought it had the backing of the McCain campaign, until a week before the convention, when it learned the rule change would have to be voted on. “The campaign decided at the last minute it didn’t like that,” said Norcross, who thought the campaign’s objection meant the issue was dead.

Ohio RNC insider Bob Bennett, who has been integral on the rules change, “blew his stack” over the matter, Norcross said.

In the end, though, the rules committee and McCain campaign worked out a compromise that would allow the RNC to set the primary schedule outside of an official party nominating convention.

“It is better than what we were doing,” Norcross said. “We can make the rule change by 2010. We’ve been working with Democrats for the past six months, and we may really be able to do something for the first time.”

He said he and Bennett are delighted with the compromise, which was approved Monday by the entire convention as part of its abbreviated, business-only session in the wake of Hurricane Gustav. “I never expected the convention would give the RNC the authority to do this,” Norcross said.

With the rules committee work finished, Norcross said he is mostly back to being an ordinary delegate.

But this year’s convention hasn’t exactly been ordinary.

Norcross has attended every Republican convention since 1976, and he had never seen the party scrap its original schedule as it did this time because of Gustav.

“It was absolutely the right decision,” Norcross said. “Dropping balloons and wearing funny hats — it didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

Even though this year Norcross had to handle the rules committee matter, it was nothing like his New York convention experience in 2004. That year he was the chairman of the committee on arrangements, which is tasked with putting on the entire event — everything from security to décor.

“That was a once in a lifetime thing,” he said. “It takes about a year out of your life.”

This year that job belongs to Jo Ann Davidson, an RNC committeewoman from Ohio, in whose suite Norcross was relaxing — a perk of having been the chairman in 2004. “This time is a lot more relaxed than four years ago,” he said.

Still, he doesn’t have the all-access security passes he enjoyed in New York. On Monday, Norcross tried to enter the Xcel Center with his delegate badge amid protests going on outside. “The protesters were in full swing at that time,” he said. “I just wanted to get inside.”

But the trooper at the gate turned him away. “He said, ‘you can’t go inside yet. It’s just press,’” Norcross recalled. “I just relaxed, and about 10 minutes later he came back to us and said, ‘You’re good to go.’”