Thursday, September 18, 2008

Getting close -- but not too close -- to Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin

John McCain and Sarah Palin each arrived safely in Grand Rapids before their appearance here on Wednesday.

I know this because I was there – just in case.
An appearance by the president or vice president, or the people running for those jobs, requires reporters to be present for a variety of tasks.

Some assignments, like covering the actual town hall meeting, are kind of glamorous. My role on Wednesday was not so glamorous, but still fun, especially for a presidential junkie like me.

We call it “death watch,” because, in theory, nothing newsworthy happens unless it’s the unspeakable. And if it’s the unspeakable, we need to be there.

But some things that are not necessarily newsworthy are still fun to watch.

Typically, we head to a remote area of the airport where the cargo jets park, which is much easier to secure than your basic terminal -- though it makes it harder for the candidates to stock up on postcards, $3.50 bottles of Diet Coke and $3 bagels.

The Secret Service is at the gate, and the level of security depends on the person arriving. For McCain, we needed to show identification and submit to a metal detector. For a sitting president, ramp that up about 10 times with all kinds of prior approval.

Waiting at the arrival spot is the entire motorcade, and police escort and a flat bed truck on which the media stands – close, but not too close.

There also are a group of official greeters, who usually are campaign volunteers, donors or party honchos.

Sen. McCain's blue and white jet arrived and taxied to a spot on the apron, and two of the movable staircases were pulled into place. The one in the rear of the plane opened first, with staffers and members of the traveling media, some of whom scrambled to the other staircase near the greeters to get photos of McCain stepping out of the front door and waving.

McCain then met with the greeters and posed for snapshots for a couple minutes as the motorcade moved into place when rushed away.

About 15 minutes later, the jet carrying Gov. Palin arrived. Her plane was smaller and not as colorful, though it did say “McCain Palin” instead of just “McCain.”

The same greeters and two mobile staircases pulled into place, and Palin walked out with her husband, Todd.

One of the greeters was a GOP volunteer with Down syndrome, and I noticed that Palin spent a great deal of time with her, giving hugs and posing for many photos. It was a nice moment, the kind of stuff that makes hanging around on a flatbed truck worth the time.

Talking to the woman later, I pointed out that she had more one-on-one time with the candidate than the entire press corps during Palin's visit.

Palin and staff then moved into an SUV that was part of a smaller motorcade before it, too, rushed away.

After talking to the greeters about meeting both candidates, I phoned in the details so we could post the information on the paper’s Web site.

Later in the afternoon I walked down to Grand Rapids Community College, the site of the event.

I found about 10 vendors selling campaign pins – more than I’ve ever seen at a political event – and even several tents selling T-shirts, bumper stickers and stuffed bears with the campaign logo.

After picking up some sweet pins for my collection, I found one vendor who brought his Obama pins along, too. Score! One-stop shopping is a good thing.

Remember, these vendors are businessmen, not partisans. The same people will be back when the Dems are in town, too.

The protesters also were already in place. I’ve never quite understood the whole protest thing.
They are absolutely entitled to stand there, yelling and carrying signs. But they’re not going to change the minds of anybody standing more than an hour in line to see the candidates.

I think some of them like to argue and some like the attention. When I interview them, I look for the ones who appear to put a little effort into their signs. They tend to be a bit more passionate, and can give an answer better than “Bush sucks.”

I love covering these events, even a small part like deathwatch. Barack Obama came to town during the summer, and I’m hoping he or Sen. Biden will make another swing through the area at least once before Election Day.


JLC 1863 said...

Go McCain-Plain!!!!

Thanks for looking for at least a semi-intelligent protestor to interview.

Having worked many a demonstation on the "other side" of the barrier I was always infuriated by the the choice of semi-human morons that the reporters choose to interview.

Especially the TV reporters. I swear they look to inteview only the people who possess an IQ of 40 or less.


Anonymous said...

When protesters show up at events like this, they have no intention of influencing the attendees. They show up for a couple of reasons; 1) to show that support for the candidate is not universal in the area (which is what the media concludes if there isn't a protest presence), and 2) to get media attention and raise the profile of their issues (in this case, the protesters were primarily focusing on the Iraq war - though there were a variety of interests represented).

Kudos to you for seeking out the more eloquent protesters to speak to; though I disagree with jlc_1893's support for McCain/Palin - I completely agree with the point that the TV reporters love to seek out "semi-human morons." It's absolutely true; they basically look for younger people who can't articulate well why they're in attendance or who are largely ignorant (they seem to have some deliberate aim to embarrass the entire protest crowd through their selection).

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Thanks for the insight.

And I want to be clear, there are protesters at events for both parties.

I have noticed some differences over the years. The Dems protesting the Republicans generally are younger and a little scruffier. Louder. More in-your-face.

The GOP folks protesting at Dem events tend to be older, more organized with slicker, bigger signs. Quieter, more on the fringe of an event.

And Mike, I can only imagine the kind of stuff you've seen in the Big Apple!