We receive media advisories for somewhere around ten of the current Democratic Party presidential candidate campaigns. Others? We’re not really interested in driving any distance to cover (Tulsi Gabbard? Really? What were the Russians and Syrians thinking?). Plus, at this point the advisories are coming in so thick and fast it’s like trying to take a sip from a firehose. A couple of weeks ago we received one notice for a five day, eighteen stop bus trip from northwestern Iowa through to southeastern Iowa, from the Missouri River to the Mississippi, following Senator Kamala Harris (D). This cycle we had already spent four days covering various candidates (one event, a cattle call of sorts). The thought of spending five days on the road, while doable from scheduling and financial standpoints (we’d have to pay our own food, lodging, and for our transportation on the press bus), wasn’t attractive from a personal wear and tear perspective. We’re getting older. What I did do was send a media RSVP for one of the stops on the tour, a campaign rally in West Des Moines, Iowa, for early Saturday evening, the location a relatively short four hour or so drive from our base in Missouri.
I looked up the satellite photo of the venue to check on parking. There was plenty of free public parking.
The campaign advisory stated the doors would be open for the public at 4:00 p.m., with the event scheduled to start at 4:45 p.m. Rule No. 2 of campaigns: Nothing ever starts on time.
I loaded up the equipment (two cameras, lenses, tripod, monopod, two digital audio recorders, batteries, chargers, spare memory cards, ID, etc.). I decided not to bring the laptop to save on weight. If this had been a multi-day road trip I would have brought it to process photos. We departed west central Missouri at 10:30 a.m. Rule No. 1 of campaigns: Never pass up an opportunity to use the restroom. Travel time was added for Rule No. 1 and for fueling up the vehicle.
We arrived at about 3:00 p.m., parked the car, and walked into the venue. Campaign advance staff spotted me (a large camera bag, the tripod and monopod, and my outlet photo ID on a clip gave me away), asked who I was, recognized the outlet (that’s the beauty of the media RSVP), and retrieved my event press pass. The staffer noted I had a safety pin on my ID clip. This was not my first rodeo. I didn’t actually say that, I just thought it.
I waited about thirty minutes in the entry area before I was told to proceed to the press riser. I picked a corner next to the riser entry stairs. The venue was very well lit. As I set up my tripod advance staff asked me not to do so because they were expecting a lot of press for the riser space. That’s the reason for bringing the monopod. A long lens on a full frame camera with an external flash attached weighs a lot after about three minutes of handheld photography.
I was instructed to leave the center of the riser for the traveling press (the people on the bus). I was also instructed that we would be escorted to the cut riser on a rotating basis. And, after her speech the candidate would be working the rope line and that we would be escorted from the main riser. The room and the risers were too crowded for that to work. Once I was on the riser I was stuck.
At around 4:00 p.m. the venue was opened to the general public. And they streamed in:
Not your typical unengaged or uninformed voters.
Because I couldn’t hang my primary digital audio recorder from my tripod I had to set it on top of my camera bag behind me at foot level at the back of the main riser. Unfortunately, two individuals took time at this event to stand at ground level and have a lengthy, if intermittent, conversation unknowingly speaking directly into that recorder while the candidate was speaking. Which brings us to Rule No. 3: Always have a “Plan B”. I have a second digital recorder running as a backup on me – connected to a lavalier microphone attached to me. I had to use this backup recording, hence you can easily hear the incessant shutter bursts of the still camera.
Waiting is always a staple at every campaign event. Ever.
Media interview in the crowd:
The campaign field organizer speaks. This individual is responsible for West Des Moines. And as part of the campaign organization (along with other staff and volunteers) will be charged with identifying and getting Harris supporters to the February caucus.
You can always tell when the candidate is about to take the stage. The haggard and harried traveling press rush the press area and main riser.
Aside from a few Iowa print reporters, a sound guy with a boom microphone (covered by a dead cat), and me, all of the media present at this event (print, video, still) looked to be around twelve years old. Think about it. It’s a young person’s game. That, and almost all of the candidates were in Iowa campaigning somewhere. That’s serious saturation, so it has to be ‘all hands on deck’ for coverage.
As the crowd dissipated somewhat at the end of the event and the candidate was still on the rope line I was able to squeeze off the main riser and get out of the roped off press area. Someone was kind enough to unhook the barrier and let me pass. I managed to get a few closer images.
The venue cleared out fairly quickly after the event. The traveling press departed on their bus, and the tear down staff started on their work, removing risers, lighting, sound system, and banners. I packed up my cameras and audio recorders and we walked to our car in the now mostly empty parking lot for the 225 mile drive home.
This is going to continue at an increasing pace in Iowa until the beginning of February.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D) – West Des Moines, Iowa – August 10, 2019 (August 10 2019)