Presidential Advance (Part 4)

Jesse Cornett

Newton, Iowa, which I wrote about last time, was my first of three consecutive trips with two other team members: T. Wells and Teddy. You see, after each trip you may or may not be assigned with the same team – and this was the first time that I’d been assigned with any of the same people from the previous trip. Working with the same set of people, even with just two, was great, if for no other reason than people know what skills you bring to the table and vice versa.

Most teams had a great “wheels up” party when the event is over and the candidate departs. The timing of the debates and baseball playoffs led to a couple of blowout welcome parties with this group of people. In Gainesville, where we’d arrived for a rally at the University of Florida campus, our welcome party was not to be forgotten. On television we had our choice between a presidential debate and the Sox v. Yankees. By the time either of them ended, I don’t think most of us could have cared less. There is just something fun about a night of drinking with a group of people you’ve either never met or barely know.

The actual rally, carried live on C-Span was okay. From the press standpoint it was easy. Since we were having the rally on campus, the only place we could order food from was the University. They, of course, had high-speed internet access for the campus, so we didn’t have to worry about that. They even had a tent rented for an event the previous day which we just had to move about 50 feet to make it the press tent.

The cut riser, used to get shots of the crowd from basically the side of the speaker/candidate and the main riser (head on shot) where made from junk, and the stairs to get up to them were too. The cut riser actually broke before the rally started, which was okay by me. It turns out the banner in the area where their shot was aimed was too high, leaving room for protestors to get close enough behind it to get into the shot. If it hadn’t broken, we may have said it was anyway….

The best aspect of the University of Florida rally was the volunteers. As the press team, we got all volunteers from the communications department at the school. Now, usually, I am really bad at managing volunteers. They aren’t around long enough to learn anything about the operation and it’s hard for me to fully engage them. This bright group, who all knew one another, worked as a team, finding solutions to problems and working together. Internet access in the press tent was not working correctly for a while – and I honestly to this day don’t know what happened to it – I found out about it after a volunteer had found a tech from the school and resolved the problem. Another was on hand for members of the traveling press to ask about more water. It seems on a hot, humid Florida day, ordering two bottles per person wasn’t enough. Seems she had access to water on-campus. Again, I learned about this only after the problem was solved. Bravo Team Gainesville volunteers!

In Gainesville, I had a first time experience: riding in the motorcade. What a way to travel! If you ever want to experience having every road all to yourself and a police escort to block every light and clear the road of any cars that might get in your way, then you should volunteer in the 2008 race as a motorcade driver. I did in 2000 but my driving was limited to the luggage truck, meaning that I didn’t get to run any red lights, though I did get my own secret service agent (well, okay, the luggage got an agent).

After Gainesville, I got a call from my lead telling me where I was going (usually the call came from DC, but with T. Wells, she took care of such things for us). I was told I was going to Fargo, ND (not a swing state!) and I think my response was “who the f*ck did I piss off ?” But, as it turns out, my next trip was just a ways down the road in St. Petersburg, Florida.

It was like we were building steam this time. Three of us from Newton were still together and Terry from Team Gainesville stayed with us. By now in the campaign we had to get everything done much quicker. They were sending us in with less and less time to pull an event together. We arrived in St. Pete on the same day as George W., who returned just a few short days later, the night before John Edwards arrived. I didn’t get to see the picture of the campaign plane sitting next to Air Force One, but from time to time, this being one of them, it happened.

How many hours do you think it takes to have an internet line installed in the middle of a park? In St. Pete, it took about two. We researched many options, relying on the media’s tech support company back in DC to make arrangements, as they are paid to do. As of noon on Friday (for a Saturday rally) the job hadn’t been done and we took it upon ourselves to find the local cable company. It turns out they had a line just about 100 feet way. Problem solved. While some miracles can’t be performed from an office in DC, I couldn’t help but shake the thought the folks in DC gave Edwards events second-tier status. My only problem with that is that it’s my problem if the lines aren’t there or don’t work right, even though the true responsibility falls to the guy in DC.

St. Pete was the only place where protestors got arrested on event I was involved with. It seems that a Kerry supporter tried to take a Bush sign away from a protestor. When the cops tried to get it back she elbowed one, he was behind her and you could guess she didn’t know it was a cop grabbing her. Anyhow, St. Pete PD gave our supporter a good old smack down and dragged her to the slammer. Guess what picture was in all the papers the next day?

St. Pete was great, and I give the Pier Hotel my highest recommendations. Any place that has a free happy hour two hours each day for its guest will always get my highest marks.

Stay tuned for my fifth and final post on the experience of advance.

Read Part 1
Read Part 2
Read Part 3
Read Part 5

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