Surrogates, including Utah's Jason Chaffetz, play high-stakes game of political football
"Jason does a good job," said High. "He's not a talking points politician. He's a content politician."
When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined the show to discuss Obama's record, Chaffetz sat quietly, mostly shaking his head.
Afterward, Chaffetz posed for a picture with Emanuel and Gibbs.
"Here's the deal," Emanuel said. "We want to get a poster of this picture and hang it all over Utah."
"I teased Rahm afterward, told him, 'I went easy on you,'" he said. "He said, 'I know. I was making sure you didn't get a chance to say anything!' He's a pro that way."
In the arena
Chaffetz, already considered an up-and-comer in the House GOP caucus since coming to Washington in 2009, is fast becoming one. Since signing on as surrogate for Romney last year, he has spent as much time on the campaign trail than at home, learning to love his wheeled, blue-silver carry-on bag and fully refundable airline tickets.
"The hardest part is being away from my family," he said. "I think I spent 30 of the first 35 days of the year on the road. But I love being in the arena. I don't want to be on the sidelines."
As Chaffetz entered the RNC war room at the NASCAR museum, he was informed that Obama's convention-capping speech had just been moved from Bank of America Stadium to Time Warner Arena, ostensibly due to concerns over bad weather.
"On Monday, the Democrats said there was a 100 percent chance the speech would be outside in the football stadium," he said. "Now it's inside. I guess it takes the pressure off them trying to find an extra 50,000 people to attend."
Chaffetz paused, all but licking his lips.
"All of the shows this afternoon will be talking about this," he said. "The Democrats create messes for themselves. When the president gave himself an 'incomplete' grade, we were off to the races with that."
For Chaffetz and other Republican surrogates, three rules apply: Stay on message. Attack opponent's gaffes. Do not, under any circumstances, make gaffes yourself.
According to Chaffetz, the third rule is the toughest to follow — in part because jet-lagged surrogates give dozens of interviews a day; in part because even the smallest verbal misstep can dominate a news cycle.
"Somebody is always saying something stupid, and it's not just Democrats," he said. "In some ways, (being a surrogate) is sort of like the holder. You catch the ball, put it down. Mitt Romney has to make the kick. But if you don't get the hold down? Look out."
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