Republican National Convention
Friday, August 04, 2000

Bush 'trouble-shooter' oversees coronation




By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Joe Hagin of Indian Hill serves as logistics "troubleshooter" for the GOP convention.
(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        PHILADELPHIA - There are good reasons why the Bush family has wanted Joe Hagin on its side in one political war after another for 20 years.

        They are reasons that mean a lot in the world of the Bush family. Loyalty. Discretion. And, perhaps most important in the pure-oxygen-charged atmosphere of a political campaign, the ability to put out fires.

        “I guess I am the campaign's trouble-shooter,” said Mr. Hagin, 44, an Indian Hill resident who tends to shift uncomfortably in his seat when talking about himself.

        As deputy campaign manager, he has been hammer ing out the logistics of the Bush convention - who gets access to the podium, where the running mate needs to be in Philadelphia and when, what high-roller contributors and high-ranking politi cians get floor passes and a chance to rub elbows with the candidate.

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Hagin confers with Bush adviser Condoleezza Rice.
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        Bush people do not often talk about themselves; they are loyal to the family they have worked for and hesitate to let loose any inside information, no matter how insignificant.

        So it was not Mr. Hagin who told the story of how he may have saved George W. Bush's convention from a political disaster Wednesday night. Instead it was a source near the campaign who watched it happen.

        Wednesday night, on the floor of the First Union Center here, the Republican National Convention might well have turned from the George W. Bush lovefest it had been for three days into a media feeding the likes of which the GOP has not seen since the nominee's father named Dan Quayle as his running mate 12 years ago.

        But Mr. Hagin, on leave from his job as vice president for corporate affairs at Chiquita Brands International Inc. through the November election to be Mr. Bush's deputy campaign manager, was on the job in one of the campaign skyboxes high above the arena floor.

        Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate for president, had managed to get TV production credentials to drape around his neck and made his way to the convention floor.

        Bush campaign aides on the floor were furious; they talked of having the longtime consumer activist thrown bodily out of the convention hall.

        The call went to Mr. Hagin in the skybox: What do we do?

        Mr. Hagin cooled off those who wanted to toss Mr. Nader on his ear and explained that they were to go to the floor, welcome him to the Republican National Convention, wish him a good day, and by no means have him removed.

        If they had, the thousands of news people working in the media tents adjacent to the arena, ravenously hungry for anything remotely resembling real news, would have pounced on the story; and the maiden speech of vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney that night would have been buried in the avalanche.

        Mr. Hagin is the ultimate Bush loyalist, having been with the family since George Bush the elder's first campaign for the GOP nomination in 1980, serving as the personal aide — the “body man” — for Mr. Bush as a vice presidential candidate.

        When Mr. Bush became President Reagan's vice president, Mr. Hagin worked as the vice president's personal assistant and later as head of the legislative affairs office. When Mr. Bush was elected president in 1988, Mr. Hagin became appointments secretary. He worked again for Mr. Bush in the 1992 campaign.

        Thursday afternoon, standing in a skybox above the arena floor as a Tex-Mex band rehearsed below for its part in the Thursday night celebration, Mr. Hagin was asked about the Nader incident. He rolled his eyes, grinned sheepishly and shuffled his feet.

        “How did you hear about that?” he said.

        It is that kind of loyalty and willingness to stay out of the limelight that led to a stint in the Bush White House as the president's appointments secretary, where he sat in an office just outside the Oval Office and controlled the flow of traffic in and out.

        Now, he is working for the eldest son, whom he has known since he left Kenyon College 20 years ago.

        “Joe is as close to being a member of the family as you can get without having the name Bush,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who became Mr. Hagin's friend when both worked in President George Bush's White House.

        One reason Mr. Hagin has fit in so well with the Bush family is that he is “discrete about what he does, and that's important,” Mr. Portman said.

        “He's very good for this campaign because he has been through it all before,” Mr. Portman said. “He's one of the most experienced political people at a senior level.”

        Mr. Hagin is about as senior as it gets. He is just outside the so-called Iron Triangle of Bush campaign operatives that includes chief strategist Karl Rove, communications director Karen Hughes and campaign manager Joe Allbaugh.

        Since May, Mr. Hagin has been living and working in Austin headquarters of the Bush campaign. His principal job is mapping out where the candidate will campaign and supervising the immense amount of advance work that has to be done to prepare for cam paign events.

        “I've always said that the most valuable commodity you have in a campaign is the candidate's time,” Mr. Hagin said. “My job is to see that it is used wisely.”

        Thursday afternoon in the skybox, hours before the session where Mr. Bush would make his acceptance speech was to begin, Mr. Hagin said he was looking forward to “sitting back and relaxing and watching the show.” The night's details were complete, as was the start of a Bush-Cheney train trip today that begins in Pittsburgh.

        Mr. Hagin will be getting on that campaign train, headed for Ohio and Michigan today, even though he had hoped he would be able to spend a few days back in Indian Hill before returning to Austin and facing the rigors of the fall campaign.

        “I guess that was too much to expect,” Mr. Hagin said, eyeing the arena floor, “No rest for the weary.”

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