Schlock and Awe

Our election blogger’s scrapbook: grilling pork, frisking suspects, spinning the press, and other Kodak moments from the campaign trail

By Marc Ambinder
Also see:

Slideshow: "On the Bus"
Hear Marc Ambinder discuss these and other images from the campaign trail

obama iowa campaign

The War Room: Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters in Iowa, a few days before the caucuses, were frenzied, messy, and very noisy. In this shot, Tommy Vietor, an Obama press aide, licks a lollipop while speechwriter Adam Frankel bites his nails. Moments after this picture was taken, Paul Tewes, Obama’s Iowa state director, popped his head in and looked at me suspiciously. There were plenty of campaign secrets on those white walls.

romney mormon

Grasping at Straws: This anti-Mormon flier was circulated by “U.S. Christians for Truth” on Saturday, August 11, at Iowa State University, where Republicans were gathering for their quadrennial straw poll. Members of the Romney campaign told me they believed that supporters of Mike Huckabee were behind the fliers, but the charge was never proved. Romney spent $3 million to win the straw poll; Huckabee claims to have spent only $150,000 to place second, exceeding expectations and launching what would become a caucus-winning campaign.

marc penn

When Penn Was Mightier: Mark Penn was still the Clinton campaign’s chief strategist when I took this right after the Clinton/ Obama debate in Los Angeles on January 31. Penn, whose comportment and sheveledness are relatively good in this shot, was his own force in the campaign. Undeniably brilliant, he had the ear and the trust of Hillary and Bill Clinton, so he did not need anyone else’s. The debate that night was held in the Kodak Theatre; streets were closed for blocks around, while LAPD and FBI SWAT teams roamed the premises.

romney barbeque

The Five-Second Rule: You can barely see the top of Mitt Romney’s hair in this photograph from the Iowa State Fair in mid-August. It was about 100°, and Romney had just shown up at the Iowa Pork Producers’ pavilion to participate in the traditional grilled-pork photo op. The cameras are pointed downward because Romney had just dropped a piece of pork on the ground and then scooped it up and put it back on the grill. That’s a no-no.

obama secret service

The Obama Squad: Security has been a worry for those around Obama, code-named “Renegade” to the Secret Service agents guarding him. In Iowa, on the Fourth of July, they surrounded this man, who had been circling the perimeter of our motel. After a police officer searched his car and found a knife with a blade longer than that permitted by Iowa law, the man was arrested. It turned out that Davit Zakaryan, 24, was no threat to Obama. The Armenian American community later protested his arrest to the Obama campaign.

mccain new hampshire town hall

The Tide Turns: Three days before his come-from-behind victory in the New Hampshire primary, John McCain held his 100th town-hall meeting, in Peterborough. Fire codes were discarded, but several hundred people still had to be turned away. McCain adviser Mike Dennehy told me that the moment he saw this crowd, he knew McCain would win. An unusual guest was in the audience: the French ambassador to the United States.

bill clinton campaigning

An Idyll Iowa: A beautiful July evening in Des Moines served as the backdrop for Hillary Clinton’s first campaign trip to Iowa that summer. Her organization still seemed happy and relaxed; reclusive manager Patti Solis Doyle even took time to greet members of the traveling press corps. Communications director Howard Wolfson, who does not fly, had driven all the way from Washington. “Even if I wasn’t married to her,” Bill Clinton said that night, “I still would vote for her.”

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/10/schlock-and-awe/306977/