PHOTOS: Backstage in the 'spin room' of the GOP debate

Tom Abrahams Image
Saturday, August 8, 2015

CLEVELAND, OH (KTRK) -- Here are some photos of photographer Willie Dixon and me at work at the post debate "spin room" in Cleveland on Thursday night. And here's the behind-the-scenes story about what happened that night.

I've been attending presidential debates since 2000. There's always a spin room after the event. They're always hectic and electrically charged. There are large signs with each candidate's name emblazoned on them, which indicate where to go to get an interview with the candidate or their spokesperson.

It's rare any news comes from the spin rooms. Usually it's the candidates, or their surrogates, merely putting the best face on their performances. Often, the candidates with less to lose will appear. Those with more to lose, or who are at the top of the polls, don't appear. They leave the spin up to their campaign staff or other elected officials who support them.

When it's down to the debates sponsored by the Commission On Presidential Debates, and it's down to the final two candidates, those candidates NEVER make an appearance.

In Cleveland, it was a relatively small space for the number of journalists attending the event. We'd wait for the candidates to arrive. Then there was a mad, crushing dash to get the best position. We were fortunate to find ourselves close to many of the candidates. After the early debate, we were able to sidle up to Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal before the hoards descended. We got our sound and left pretty quickly.

We waited for a while for Rick Perry, who we wanted to interview more than anyone else. We were getting precariously close to having to leave. We had a live shot at 7PM eastern and couldn't risk missing it. Fortunately, some friends and supporters of his recognized us as we waited, and gave us a tip as to where he'd enter the room. We set up exactly where we needed to be and walked with him as he moved to his interview spot. He actually had his hand on my elbow, guiding me along as we spoke, so I didn't stop him in the wrong spot. We got a good interview with him and then RAN from the spin area, up three flights of stairs, outside the area, and a block down the street to get to our live shot. We made it with four minutes to spare.

As for the late debate, it was far more hectic and crowded. After our 11PM EDT live shot we ran back into the spin room. We managed sound with Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee. Ted Cruz, we knew, would not make an appearance. Instead, we spoke with his campaign manager Jeff Roe. There were two large clumps of cameras and reporters in the small space. One was mobbing Ohio Governor John Kasich. The other was waiting by the entrance through which all of the candidates had entered. It was 12:30 in the morning. We'd been up since 6AM and we still had a pair of stories to put together for the morning newscast. Willie and I were about to leave. And then, on the side of the room opposite from where all of the other candidates entered, I spotted Donald Trump. Willie and I made a beeline for him, reaching him before anyone else, other than a radio reporter who entered the space with him. We were in a great position. And then everyone saw him.

The ensuing Trump "scrum" was, by far, the craziest I've ever been in. We were pushed, shoved, leaned on during the entirety of the interview. It verged on violent. But thankfully I'm 6'2" and not thin, so I was able to hold my ground, as was Willie, who is about my height and doesn't give an inch when a shot is at stake. Trump asked me as the crowd formed if I was okay, because he saw me getting shoved. He then took four of my questions.

What you can't see is that in the middle of it all, Willie Dixon handing me a second microphone. His wireless microphone caught interference from somebody else in the maddening crowd, and he had the wherewithal to snake a wired "shotgun" mike to me through the throng, all while maintaining his shot.

Hope you enjoy these behind-the-scenes photos.