Georgian quietly runs show at Republican National Convention

An invisible Poitevint is good news.

It means that buses are moving 2,286 delegates to the convention hall on time, that air conditioning at hundreds of locales has been properly cranked to "high" so another 50,000 hangers-on can party in comfort, and that 15,000 or so journalists on hand to witness the formal anointing of Mitt Romney as the GOP presidential nominee have been cooed into submission.

A visible Poitevint means trouble is afoot.

The 64-year-old Poitevint, is already the ultimate insider in Georgia's Republican Party. For the next six days — festivities begin Monday — he will be the ultimate stage manager. Romney is the unquestioned star of the Republican National Convention, but Poitevint and his crew have spent the past 18 months, and $18 million in federal cash, making sure the nominee will have everything he needs for his close-up: lights, stage, audience, cameras and everything in between.

"It's delegates, it's message, it's press, it's transportation," Poitevint said in a recent and rare interview — before Tropical Storm Isaac made its debut in the Caribbean. But already, hurricane season and the geography of Tampa Bay had made their way into his calculations.

"We're hemmed in by water on three sides. That has advantages and disadvantages," he said. "We have the largest [security] perimeter we've ever had. We have two hotels inside the perimeter, which I don't think has ever happened."

Hurricanes, surly protesters, inebriated guests, August heat — what could possibly go wrong?

None of the above, if Poitevint and his staff of 100 or so have any say, will be allowed to mar the launching of the Romney ticket. Late Friday, Poitevint's luck seemed to be holding. Isaac had pointed itself west of Tampa, and convention officials speculated that any heavy rains might cool off the city — and wash away protesters.

Next week, it's not just Romney's reputation at stake.

A native of Bainbridge in southwest Georgia, Poitevint arrived in Tampa as chairman of the Committee on Arrangements, the GOP body in charge of the convention, only 18 months ago.

Michael Steele had been deposed as chairman of the Republican National Committee, replaced by Reince Priebus. One of Priebus' first acts was to sack the six-member Tampa team Steele had placed in charge of the 2012 convention.

News reports had surfaced alleging improper hiring of family members and friends and over-the-top spending on items such as a waterfront home for the director and meals at five-star restaurants — using up nearly $1 million from a line of credit established in anticipation of federal funding.

"Obviously there were some concerns with what had been going on in Tampa," Priebus said in February 2011.

Poitevint was a natural choice to sweep up the debris. He is one of the most senior members of the Republican National Committee, having represented Georgia on the body since 1989. Poitevint was co-chairman of the 2000 convention (Philadelphia), treasurer for the conventions in '92 (Houston) and '96 (San Diego).

More than anything, however, Poitevint has a talent for staying out of the limelight — and getting things done. Friends say he possesses a fiery temper that rarely flares. In public, anyway.

"We're going to go live on the 27th day of August, and there's no such thing as being late," Poitevint said.

If tourism is in the hands of the local host committee, and security the responsibility of the U.S. Secret Service, Poitevint and his Committee on Arrangements are in charge of the show.

The president and chairman of Bainbridge-based Southeastern Minerals Inc. said he has had a say in the roster of speakers who will mount the RNC stage next week. "Everyone has some input into that. That process is collective — just like making sausage. The end product looks real

good, sometimes," Poitevint said.

The task is more daunting than it sounds. "We've been collecting good leads — people who can sing well for opening ceremonies, people who can do a good job praying in public and so forth. We've got a network of RNC members across the country," he said.

In other words, a lifetime of connections helps.

"He doesn't go out of his way to make a lot of relationships with the grass roots — but he is respected by the grass roots," said Sue Everhart, the current chairman of the Georgia GOP. "Back in the late '80s, early '90s, we didn't have any money. We hardly had anybody that was an elected official. And [Poitevint] actually ran the party out of his own back pocket. He paid the rent or whatever had to be done."

Poitevint considered a stab at public office only once. "There was a unique window one time that developed, and I looked at running for governor," Poitevint said. That was in 1994, when Democratic Gov. Zell Miller sought a second term.

Another Republican self-funder, millionaire Guy Millner, ran instead. And lost a close race.

Otherwise, Poitevint has focused on being in the right place at the right time. "He was part of Paul Coverdell's kitchen Cabinet when he ran for Senate" in 1992, said Eric Tanenblatt, Romney's top fundraiser in Georgia. Coverdell won, and the connection led to the first of Poitevint's two stints chairing the Georgia GOP.

In 2001, Poitevint was in U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss' Washington office when Gov. Roy Barnes called to inform Chambliss that new maps would put him in the same district with U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, a Republican colleague.

Chambliss told the Democratic governor that if that was the case, he'd run against U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, a Democrat. He did, and won.

Poitevint then became an early backer of state Sen. Sonny Perdue and his quixotic 2002 campaign to topple Barnes. Perdue won, and once again, Poitevint was named chairman of the state party.

If there is one note of irony struck by Poitevint's Tampa adventure, it is this: Through Thursday, the Georgia businessman will be in charge of one of the two most partisan events of the year. The program he has helped design will offer Democrats no quarter.

On the other hand, Poitevint, as chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority, has been at the center of one of the most uniquely bipartisan efforts in state history.

In pursuit of hundreds of millions of federal dollars for the dredging of the Port of Savannah, Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, has struck an alliance with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed — who is not only a Democrat, but a fierce surrogate for President Barack Obama.

Poitevint admits that Reed escorted him and other Georgia Republicans into the Executive Office Building, allowing them to make their case.

Obama placed the dredging of the Savannah port on a federal priority list shortly after Poitevint finished his term as chairman in July.

"Here, we have a partisan organization, and its mission is to make sure that we elect Mitt Romney," Poitevint said in his Tampa office. "But I'm comfortable in both environments. I think there are a lot of people in our state who have a passion for the importance of jobs and the economy. And the mayor, to his credit, is part of that team."

One more small irony: At the end of the 2012 convention, after 23 years, Poitevint will depart the Republican National Committee. He'll be replaced by Newt Gingrich ally Randy Evans, an Atlanta attorney.

But Poitevint has no plans to disappear. In fact, on Friday, you'll have official Republican permission to remember his name again.

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