Presidential Advance (Part 5)

Jesse Cornett

Thanks to all of you who’ve taken the time to read about my wonderful campaign adventure. This is my fifth and final post. Writing about this experience was in itself a great experience, and I hope you enjoyed it too!

After Florida, I returned to Iowa two final rallies. The first was a rally at North High School in Davenport. Some of us arrived late night Sunday, others late Monday. Our rally was on Thursday night. Our site guys, who, along with the lead, usually pick the site, arrived late Monday. Without the benefit of having them present, the lead, who had done a lot of political work in the past was just doing a few advance trips this fall, and the press team were left to choose a site. Our crowd person wasn’t on the ground yet either, leading us to have to being laying the groundwork there, too, including printing tickets.

I took quite a bit of pride in our site selection. The choice was between high schools, it became clear looking at the different venues. One was a set space with bleachers and such. One didn’t really want us. The third had a huge gymnasium – but with nets/temporary walls that rolled down from the ceiling. I was certain this was the venue I wanted. All other factors being the same, the versatility of the room was great. If we had 800 people show up it would look like we had packed house. If 3000 people showed up, we could accommodate them.

We finally had a full team for or event on Tuesday morning and we were getting everything lined up. By Tuesday night it looked like we might have an okay event, but we wouldn’t even try to fool ourselves into thinking that we’d get 3000 people. John Edwards had campaigned in Davenport a few weeks earlier – standing in for John Kerry who missed the appearance because he’s lost his voice, and the entire state of Iowa had been thoroughly tapped out after caucuses and being a swing state. When talking to one local about attending the rally, she told me that she didn’t want to come to the rally in sort of a snotty tone. People in Iowa became very accustomed to having very personal contact in the caucus. Just being in the audience doesn’t appeal as much to them as it might to an Oregonian.

Late Tuesday night we got word that John Bon Jovi would be attending the rally and performing a few songs. We had about 40 hours until game time to turn our event around. By the time the motorcade arrived, we’d raised the second wall to use the third section of the gym, and the fire marshal had shut down anyone else getting into the room, saying we had well over 3000 people and the room couldn’t safely hold any more people. I would bet that if I had guessed the number, because of the way we set up the room, was less than that. Didn’t matter, though, the fire marshal said 3000 and that’s number that stuck (it seemed like every event that you’d have a range of figures for attendance with one number rising to the top of the heap as the “number that sticks”).

I honestly thought this would me my last rally, but as the event started DC called to let me know that I was headed elsewhere in Iowa (hello, if anyone knows how busy you might be during an event AND when those events are, don’t ya think it’d be the Kerry campaign in DC?). I don’t remember where they told me. It didn’t make sense to pay attention until they called with travel arrangements. Even then it could change (I was on my way to the airport after St. Pete when I found out I had been switched to another trip). After the event I called in and learned that it had been changed to Waterloo, just a couple hours away.

In Waterloo, most arrived on Thursday morning, with two of us arriving the next day. My Press Lead on this trip was several years my junior – as most were – and this one had been around had been around the block more than a few times, or so he said. I usually hate smack talking about those around me, so I made a last minute decision to delete most of the things I orginally wrote about him. He was a nice guy but seemed to have no (none, nada, zilch, zippo) sense of humor (or at least didn't think I was funny), which made the job more difficult than it should have been. Anyhow, I maybe had a worse attitude than I should have because I just couldn’t wait for this trip to be over and return to Portland.

The mission was an airport rally on Sunday night – right in the middle of trick-or-treat time on Halloween. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card flew into the airport the same afternoon. He left and went into the local Republican Headquarters in Waterloo for a last minute rally the troops visit. I don’t think he was on the ground more than 45 minutes before he was back in the plane and gone. It turns out that it almost seemed like a race for who could be on the ground the least amount of time that night. Senator Edwards decided not to do anything else on his schedule (running and such) while in Waterloo in order to fly to his next stop – where he was just staying overnight prior to his event.

With a good dinner and lots of beer stocked away for the press going completely untouched because of the early departure, I got to offer dinner to the sound and stage crew, secret service, local police, and everyone else around that night. And even though the flight attendants had swooped in and stolen all the good beer, they didn’t look under the table for the rest of the stash.

This was it for me, I was done. I had emailed DC and asked for the earliest flight out the next day, determined to make it back to Portland in time for lunch on Monday. Sporting my new “Kerry-Edwards National Advance Staff – Iowa Election Team 2004” fleece, I awoke early to head to the airport the next morning. I can’t tell you how hopeful I felt when I was applauded by TSA at the Cedar Rapids Airport, even as they were giving me the extra security check. Not knowing whether we would win or lose, my job was done.

P.S. If you still work for he Kerry campaign and are reading this email, can you tell me when I am going to get my hard-earned paychecks for the nearly two months of my life? Today, after waiting almost patiently for all this time, I received a check in the mail for almost everything owed to me!

Read Part 1
Read Part 2
Read Part 3
Read Part 4

  • Aaron (unverified)


    You be a volunteer....A BLOODY VOLUNTEER..IT IS A HONOR AND A PRIVILEGE TO BE PART OF THE TEAM….do you hear me hmmmm?


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    Hey JC, great stuff... maybe the Kerry folks were waiting to see what you had to say about them before sending you the check!

  • JACK PEEK (unverified)

    Dear Jesse, The point of all this was what?

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    I loved the timing of the paycheck (hell, I loved just getting it).

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    Hey Jack... Jesse did what I think a bunch of us did, which was to give a slice of what it was like being a volunteer for a campaign. I wrote a mini-series blog on my experiences as a lawyer in the swing states (primarily Oregon of course!). I know my interest in politics as a kid came from others... if my thoughts and musings encourage public service (left, right or center) then I feel like I did a good thing. I like reading about other experiences too... if you have seen a Republican version of this, let me know!

    Thanks for the looksee into your experiences Jesse!

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    Jesse --

    Great to read about your experiences. Glad you enjoyed it as it can be draining and frustrating at times. While it would have been more fun if we had won, the experience will serve you well in the future. You quickly learn that with the right attitude (and occasionally a little luck) almost anything can be accomplished in a very short period of time.

    It's not too early to start planning for 2008!


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    It's not too early to start planning for Right Now, either, Mike. Virginia and New Jersey governorships are up in '05, and as Dems, we've got a fighting chance in both of 'em...

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