Boys and girls on the bus – snapshots from the campaign trail
11/14/2012 7:48 PM
11/14/2012 7:48 PM
Day in, day out, the food’s the same. The music’s the same. The plane is the same. The speeches are the same. Until you switch sides.
To see campaign life from the other side, McClatchy sent its Obama campaign reporters out with the Romney campaign for a few days, and sent its Romney reporters to follow Obama.
Here’s a notebook of what they found:
8:15 a.m. Delray Beach, Fla.
It’s foggy, it’s cloudy, it’s muggy. But people are lined up all the way to Atlantic Avenue – maybe half a mile away – to get into the huge tennis center to see President Barack Obama. There’s a lot of enthusiasm.
What’s striking is how Delray Beach life seems to go on. Outside the three-block area around the downtown tennis center, the free downtown bus keeps running its normal schedule. There’s a long line at Dunkin’ Donuts, but that’s right next door to the tennis center. A little ways away at Spot Coffee it almost seems like a normal day.
People are squeezing into what’s usually a tennis court, undaunted that they have to stand for hours before the president arrives. Obama emerges like a rock star, walking slowly from the side of the podium, shaking hands as the crowd of about 8,000 erupts in cheers.
8 p.m. Denver.
Mitt Romney seems humbled by the sight of the soaring Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver, as one of his biggest audiences to date fills the sandstone-cliff rimmed stadium, the Romney campaign slogan illuminating the red rocks.
“What a place this is,” Romney says, marveling at the view. “To come here and look at these extraordinary mountains. You look at the handiwork of our creator and it’s just overwhelming.”
The Denver Post, however, greets the former Massachusetts governor with a story suggesting that the venue created a bit of irony for Romney: the iconic amphitheater was built as part of the Depression-era New Deal employment programs – the type of government stimulus spending that Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, frown upon.
9:15 a.m. Davenport, Iowa.
The soundtrack blaring at an Obama rally at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds hits all the notes: sweet Memphis soul with Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” country with Darius Rucker’s “This,” rock with Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own,” and grown folks urban contemporary with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Got to Get You Into My Life.”
When the horn riff starts the song at the Obama rally, a woman jumps out of her seat and dances down an aisle.
Romney’s musical selection, by comparison, is usually country. In recent weeks, country singers Ricky Skaggs, Ronnie Milsap and Rodney Atkins have performed at his rallies.
3 p.m. Reno, Nev.
At several Romney rallies, including one at the Reno Events Center in downtown Reno – a giant “We Can’t Afford Four More Years” Romney banner shares valuable ad space with signs hawking other candidacies: from the U.S. Senate to the state Assembly.
Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki introduces Romney, but not before putting in a pitch for the down-ballot candidates, including praise for Republican candidates Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei. “Get your friends out to vote,” Krolicki tells the audience, adding, “Make sure they’re like-minded before you do it.”
At Obama’s events, the warm-up is all about him, though he often throws an affectionate nod to other candidates in attendance and asks the audience to support them.
6:15 p.m. Los Angeles.
Obama lands at Los Angeles en route to “The Tonight Show.” He bounds off of the plane, delivers a snappy salute to the military personnel at the bottom of the stairs and jogs to Marine One, waiting on the tarmac. Unlike Romney, who travels by motorcade, Obama has access to the presidential helicopter.
As the president boards, accompanying media, some campaign staff, and support personnel board two military helicopters that follow Marine One to Burbank’s airport. It’s only about 30 miles between the airports but the choppers are used instead of a motorcade to avoid traffic congestion in a city known for congested traffic.
Aboard the support helicopters, the passengers are given earplugs because the noise is considerable. The rear ramps of the choppers remain open and one door has an open window. The choppers fly over the coast and over some valleys during a 10-minute sunset flight.
8:20 p.m. Cleveland.
An airport rally features the best campaign prop an incumbent president has – Air Force One. The white, powder blue, darker blue and gold aircraft lands to the cheers of 12,000 people.
The plane in Cleveland isn’t the familiar military version of a 747 that Obama used earlier in the day at stops in Tampa, Fla., and Richmond, Va. Because the Cleveland airport’s runway is too short to accommodate the giant presidential plane, Obama switched to a slightly smaller Boeing C-32 – a version of the 757 – normally reserved for Vice President Joe Biden. Any Air Force aircraft with the president on board is designated Air Force One.
Big plane or no, the crowed reveled in Air Force One’s arrival and slow taxi to the stage where Obama was to speak. The crowd cheered wildly as the door to the aircraft opened and Obama made his way down the stairs to the stage.
Romney has his own plane, too – a 1990 MD-83 built by McDonnell Douglas – emblazed with "Believe in America" on the side and an "R" for Romney on the tail. It was previously used by the rock band U2.
11:45 a.m. Pensacola, Fla.
Before Romney appears, a local pastor takes the stage at the civic center. The 10,000 supporters – as well as dozens of campaign staffers and volunteers – bow their heads in prayer.
“If we ever needed God in America, we need him now,” the pastor says. A cheer erupts when he mentioned Jerusalem.
Campaign rallies don’t always start with a prayer, but they are more likely at a Republican event than a Democratic one.
The local congressman, Jeff Miller, mentions Obama’s much-criticized 2008 remark about religion.
“Here we are again, clinging to our guns and our religion,” Miller says to cheers.
12:30 p.m. Nashua, N.H.
With Obama in Nashua, outside the Elm Street Middle School for a rally. Quite a contrast to the Romney events: James Taylor is singing, and it looks like he’s going through a catalog of his greatest hits. But in this swing state, should he really be singing "Carolina In My Mind?”
When Obama’s arrives, Taylor is singing, "Whenever I see your smiling face. . .”
Later, Obama tapes radio interviews, including a gig with Greg Kretschmar, host of the Morning Buzz, which airs on stations throughout New Hampshire. Along with colleagues Scott "Roadkill" McMullen, Andy Blacksmith and Kelly Brown, they ask Obama what he’s missed during his term as president. Being able to drive or just take a walk, the president says.
7:35 p.m. Land O’Lakes, Fla.
Addressing 15,000 at a high school football field, Romney criticizes Obama for failing to get people back to work, pushing the new health care law and lodging petty attacks.
“Four years ago, then candidate Barack Obama spoke about big things and now he’s reduced to talking about small things,” Romney says.
While Obama is always ready with a quip or two (“Elmo is making a run for the border and Oscar is hiding out in a trash can,” he said after Romney proposed cutting funding for public television), Romney’s speeches are serious. He prefers touching stories to humor.
He speaks about his sister’s commitment to caring for her son with Down syndrome and a Boy Scout troop that sent its flag into space only to see the Challenger space shuttle explode in front of the boys’ eyes. Remarkably, the flag was found intact.
“I touched it,” he said, "and it was as if electricity was running through my arm."
2 p.m. Celina, Ohio
About 3,000 supporters cram into a high school arena and nearby stadium to hear the Republican ticket – Romney and Ryan – speak just a week before the presidential election. The crowd is enthusiastic – very enthusiastic – much like Obama’s audiences in recent weeks. But they look different. They’re noticeably whiter and older.
Obama continues to attract a much younger crowd that includes more African-Americans and Hispanics.