Tamala Edwards, Time‘s reporter covering the Dole presidential campaign, unwittingly made a prime-time cameo during the Republican National Convention. As Gen. Colin Powell gave the opening night’s speech, ABC cameras panned over the audience, zeroing in on African-American delegates. Several times they focused on Edwards, who sat with the Virginia delegation following an interview. It was good luck for the Republicans, who sought to show a diverse party image, even though only 2.7 percent of delegates were black.
On a break from the campaign trail, Edwards spoke with Mother Jones‘ Rachel Burstein.
Q: What did you think when you found out you’d appeared on screen?
Edwards: On the one hand, you find it kind of comical. “Isn’t this silly?” I thought. I was wearing my press credentials. On the other hand, it’s kind of disturbing. People of color were few and far between at the Republican convention… [I was] contributing to the political spin while a speech was being made about “inclusion.”
Q: We heard that during a routine stopover in Chicago, the Dole campaign made a promotional stop at a restaurant on the city’s South Side. Dole seemed uncomfortable, like he didn’t know exactly what to do, so he came over and gave you a hug and made small talk.
Edwards: I feel kind of weird talking about it. It’s just a strange story. We were in one of the few inner-city neighborhoods that Dole campaigned in. I think his reaction to me symbolized his discomfort in the situation. It’s not so much that he mistook me for a resident.
Q: Why do you think the Dole campaign sent Jack Kemp, rather than Bob Dole, into inner-city neighborhoods to campaign?
Edwards: In studying Senator Dole, I would say that I think it’s a shame the party is not as progressive as he is. But I think it’s that the Dole campaign has just weeks to pull themselves out of a phenomenal hole. It’s strategic; they know that Jack Kemp is going to be better in that situation.
The key fact is that the party is talking one thing but the reality is quite different. They argue that Jack Kemp is campaigning in inner-city neighborhoods — but Jack Kemp is not Bob Dole.
A few weeks later, at the Democratic convention, CNN cameras focused prominently on Money magazine reporter Kelly Smith and a friend during Tipper Gore’s speech. It didn’t bother Smith. “The Democrats didn’t seem to be trying as hard to make the point that they have African-Americans in their party,” she said. (Blacks made up 17 percent of the Democratic delegates.)