Saturday, early evening, at Former Vice President Joe Biden’s (D) presidential campaign rally at the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri:
Campaign advance staffer speaking with a videographer in the crowd in front of the main press riser.
It’s a young person’s game, working in event advance and communications for a campaign.
That is also true if you’re covering presidential campaigns. Still, we get the press advisories, we RSVP to the event, we get the credential confirmation (and print it out), charge the batteries, check the weather, check the parking availability, grab the gear (always ready), and go.
You trudge up the hill, check out the two long lines, choose the shorter one for the media entrance (yep, that’s it). The camera is already out, because you never know who you’ll run into. Sure enough, there are pictures to be taken.
Your name is checked on the list. If it’s there you get an event credential with a safety pin. If it’s not your first rodeo you already have a safety pin attached to your outlet credential.
There’s a main riser with a rotating stills section (that means you can camp out if there’s no demand for the space, otherwise, still photographers rotate in and out). There’s a cut (side) riser. The same rules basically apply, unless you’re otherwise directed.
As we waited we noted a guy in the crowd with a video camera on a ten foot poll standing twenty feet in front of the main press riser waving his getup in the line of sight to the podium. We climb off the riser, find a member of the advance team and point to the camera on a pole floating in the crowd. The staffer gets it instantly.
The staff handled it perfectly. They waded into the crowd and talked with the individual, got him out of the crowd, handed him a media credential, and plopped him down in the rotating stills section of the main press riser. No more problem. Everyone was happy. No scene, no drama.
The advance and communications staff were pros. I got almost 1100 frames.
Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) – presidential campaign rally – Liberty Memorial, Kansas City, Missouri, March 7, 2020.
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:
“America needs clean water”
“We should all be feminists”
“America needs librarians”
“I do care and I vote”
“Moms demand action”
“America needs public schools”
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.
Senator Kamala Harris (D) – West Des Moines, Iowa – August 10, 2019.
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.
Senator Kamala Harris (D) – West Des Moines, Iowa – August 10, 2019.
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.
Early Saturday evening Senator Kamala Harris (D) spoke at a rally in West Des Moines, Iowa, one of eighteen stops for her presidential campaign’s five day bus tour from northwestern Iowa across the state to southeastern Iowa, from the Missouri River to the Mississippi. 300 to 400 individuals attended the event. Update: The campaign head count (they sign people in) was over 450.
Senator Kamala Harris (D) – West Des Moines, Iowa – August 10, 2019.
Senator Kamala Harris (D):
…I’ll tell you, I love being in Iowa. I really do. And, um, you have made me a better candidate. You have helped me to think about and understand the issues that are the issues that keep people up in the middle of the night – and prioritize those. You have helped me, actually my first visit to Iowa as a candidate, I’ve been here before, but my first visit as a candidate, among the many meetings I had with a group of teachers who really made clear to me the issue of teacher pay – which is why that was the first initiative I rolled out as a presidential candidate.[applause]…
…I know we are all here for one reason in particular. And it is because we love our country. [applause]…
…So, let’s, let’s get into it. Let’s get into it. Uh, so I think we all know this is an inflection moment, inflection moment in the history of our country. This is a moment in time that requires each of us, as individuals and collectively, to look in a mirror and ask a question. That question being – who are we? And I think we all know part of the answer to that question is – we are better than this. [applause] So this is a moment in time then that requires us to fight for the best of who we are and fight we will…
…My mother, um, she raised my sister Maya and me, and she was tough. Um, our mother was all of five feet tall, but if you ever met her you would have thought she was ten feet tall. And, um she was a parent who would say to us, you will be judged, and you should be judged, based on how you serve your community and those that you lift up. It is not about yourself. It is about those that you serve. My mother would say listen, you Kamala, you may be the first to do many things but make sure you’re not the last. Um, she would say, don’t you let anybody tell you who you are, you tell them who you are. Um, but she was tough. You know, she would also, if you ever came home, if you ever came home complaining about anything our mother would look at you with a straight face, maybe one hand on a hip, and she would say, well, what are you gonna do about it? So I decided to run for President of the United States…
…So, let’s talk about the current occupant of the White House, shall we? No, we must. Context. We must. So, here’s a fellow that came into office on a campaign slogan about ‘Make America Great Again’. Which of course, for many of us begged a question, again, exactly for whom? [laughter] And for all of us, made us realize he was talking about going backward. Which then prompts the question, back to what? Back before the Voting Rights Act? back before the Fair Housing Act? Back before the Civil Rights Act? Back before Roe v Wade? Back before Federal minimum wage? ‘Cause we’re not going back. [applause] We are not going back…
… He puts in place a so-called trade policy, by Tweet, based on unilateral action borne out of his fragile ego that has resulted in farmers here in Iowa looking at bankruptcy, with soybeans rotting in bins, why, because over the period of at least a decade folks have built up a market in China that is now cut off to them. We’re looking at, because of this so-called trade policy, Autoworkers, as many as three-hundred thousand, that may be out of a job by the end of the year. American families, because of this so-called trade policy that I call ‘the Trump trade tax’ are paying one point four billion dollars more a month on everything from shampoo to washing machines. He came in making promises and he betrayed people. He betrayed people. And so, there is no question that we need to make the statement: That dude gotta go. [cheers, applause]…
This afternoon ten of the Democratic Party candidates for President spoke in turn to a crowd of over 1100 individuals gathered at the NewBo City Market (a town square/small business development project) in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Two additional candidates were also scheduled to speak but were not able to appear due to other circumstances (a delayed flight for one, a power outage in his city for another). The event was sponsored by Progress, Iowa.
The venue opened at noon, with the candidate speeches starting at 1:30 p.m. The sky was partly cloudy, with the temperature in the mid 90s. Spots in the shade were at a premium. There were periodic announcements over the sound system reminding everyone to hydrate.
In the period before the speeches candidate’s campaigns and various interest groups had information tents/tables around the venue. The vendors inside the NewBo City Market had a variety of food and drink available for purchase.
Inside the Newbo City Market.
Each of the candidates was introduced before their scheduled speaking time slot and was allocated around ten minutes for their remarks. The event did not run over time.
Former Congressman John Delaney (D).
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D).
At the press gaggle inside the market, immediately after speaking:
Marianne Williamson (D).
Congressman Tim Ryan (D).
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D).
Congressman Seth Moulton (D).
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro (D).
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D).
Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D).
The candidate speeches (more on that later) highlighted each candidate’s messages and experience, and also reinforced the reality that they all agree on issues much more than they disagree. And, of course, they all agree, Donald Trump must not be reelected in 2020.
On Sunday, September 16th the 30th Harkin Steak Fry will take place at the balloon field in Indianola, Iowa. Democratic Presidential candidates Senator Joe Biden, Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Chris Dodd, Senator John Edwards, Senator Barack Obama, and Governor Bill Richardson will be in attendance (and speak to the crowd).
I plan on attending this year.
On September 12th in 2003 I received a phone call from a friend the day before the Harkin Steak Fry. He asked me, “Do you want to go?” It’d been ages since I’d taken a road trip – I agreed to go. So, we drove the 4 1/2 hours to stand in a muddy balloon field and listen to Democratic presidential candidates. We had the time of our lives.
At the time my friend and I were avid Howard Dean supporters. As we drove into Indianola we stopped to get gas. We were conspicuous in our Howard Dean t-shirts, as were the occupants of a car from Minnesota doing the same.
The Dean campaign arranged for a meeting and staging place at a park shelter near the grounds of the event – publicizing such on their blog and forum. We arrived early and helped some twenty-something campaign types move picnic benches and set up the speaker stacks for the sound system.
It started drizzling.
The campaign twenty-somethings unloaded a pile of boxes and started handing out orange t-shirts emblazoned with the legend “Hey Harkin, these steaks are Dean-licious!” So, we helped. And we kept handing them out. I watched in amazement as the parking lot filled up and all those people (some flying in from great distances) showed up. I estimate the crowd in orange t-shirts under and around the shelter to number 400 to 600. Somone passed the word that Dean supporters from at least a dozen different states were in attendance.
We passed the time conversing with each other and new found friends. In some cases, exchanging e-mail addresses so we could continue the conversation.
Along with a few friends I had raised the money to print 1500 “‘No W’ – Next regime change, November 2, 2004” bumper stickers. I distributed a large number of them to the crowd.
Howard Dean arrived (with Joe Trippi) and stood up on a picnic table to address the crowd. After he finished speaking he and his entourage started walking to a small bus which would take them to the steak fry. I maneuvered through the crowd and called out, “Mr. Trippi. Mr. Trippi.” He turned to look at me as, with a self satisfied grin on my face, I handed him a bumper sticker. He read the bumper sticker, said with a strained look on his face, “Oh, great”, turned and walked away. I thought, “Oh, well.”
The orange clad host walked the relatively short distance to the grounds of the steak fry. We saw John Kerry go by in a van past our line of orange walking along the highway.
We had opportunites to interact with some candidates on the grounds – and we heard them all speak. Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, John Kerry, John Edwards, Bob Graham, Carol Mosley-Braun, and the Big Dog (Dick Gephardt had been there earlier in the day – Joe Lieberman didn’t attend).