Conventions past: Schieffer, Plante trade war stories

Convention veterans, "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer, and White House correspondent Bill Plante, trade war stories from election years past.
CBS News
(CBS News) TAMPA, Fla. - Party conventions will "never be the same as they once were, when there was real business being done," "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer mused to White House correspondent Bill Plante ahead of Tuesday's kickoff in Tampa. Still, with 91 years of combined experience reporting politics for CBS News, both convention veterans said like always, they're expecting the unexpected this week.

"It never fails," Schieffer said Monday in the CBS News anchor studio overlooking the convention floor. "You get this many politicians in one place at one time, all cooped up - especially when there's free liquor available at various places - something will happen that we'll remember... we wouldn't have expected what it is. I don't know what it's going to be."

Heading into his 22nd convention, Schieffer thought back to his first: the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, where riots were taking place following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Schieffer said the last thing he and his wife of two years did before leaving for the convention was fill out adoption papers because "we thought we weren't going to have any children.

"Well you know what?" Schieffer continued. "Nine months to the day after that convention, our first daughter Susan was born, and she was in high school when she probably put it all together, and she said, 'Well mom, I guess it wasn't all fighting in the streets out there.' I have to say, I'll never top that one."

The Republican convention of the same year was Plante's first, and he flew to Miami - where Richard Nixon was nominated - as the "junior bag carrier" for original "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace. But one of his most memorable convention moments came in 1976 - when Ronald Reagan burst onto the scene, nearly defeating Gerald Ford, then upstaging his speech. "And from then on, his trajectory was firmly fixed for 1980," Plante said.

Schieffer recalled four years later, when Reagan did defeat his primary opponent, George H.W. Bush, to win the nomination. And "the next thing we knew, there up in the CBS anchor booth was former President Gerald Ford," he said. "And he was up there discussing with Walter Cronkite about how, 'Yeah, well, maybe I would consider going on the ticket with Ronald Reagan.' Well this went on and on, it brought the entire convention to a dead stop, if you'll remember.

"Everybody on the convention floor is up there looking, 'What is Walter talking to Gerald Ford about?'" Schieffer continued. "And my favorite part of it was that Barbara Walters, who worked for ABC, saw it all going on - and you know, Barbara's the best in the business. The next thing we knew, she was pounding on the door of the anchor booth, 'Let me in there!' Well what would she do if she got him? Was she going to sit down and interview Gerald Ford on CBS? Or was she gonna grab him by the ear and take him out of the anchor booth?"

Plante, who was covering Reagan at the time, said he began to catch buzz that Ford and Reagan were in talks, "and then, all of a sudden, they settle on good old George Bush," Plante said. Schieffer added Bush had already checked out of his hotel room and was preparing to return home when he received the call from Reagan asking him to join the ticket.

"So here we are, now we're a couple of older gentlemen," Plante said to Schieffer, adding with a grin that whatever this year brings, "I can't wait."

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