Tuesday, August 3, 2004

The Campaign on Main Street

Bowling Green, Ohio – Sunday, August 1, 2004:

We learned just before we left for Boston that the Kerry bus and the 12 buses with media camp followers would arrive in Bowling Green about 4:00 Sunday the 1st. We got word from Al Baldwin, the (seemingly) permanent chair of the Democratic Party of Wood County, by e-mail and through the Robin For Congress office that we would be expected to be in the front row. But Al was absolutely frantic. In the first place, no one had given him any warning. In the second place the university – Bowling Green State University – was not in session and it was AUGUST, for heaven’s sake. How could he produce the numbers anywhere near comparable to those he’d had when Bill Clinton was launching his campaign – like 25,000? And finally, Bowling Green is a little college town of about 12,000 and though it’s the county seat, it has only a one short, but charming, main street. It was there that the Kerry people wanted to place the rally. Why not at the college? Why not the stadium? whined Al. Because the main street of BG looks like a typical American main street of about 1895. The Kerry people wanted the platform in front of the old court house. And so it was settled.

Scroll forward to Saturday the 31st. Someone drops off the Red tickets (VIP) and tells us to pass them out to friends. We are given Gold ones as really really IP’s which means we’ll be within spittle distance from the speakers. We call around through the afternoon, offering tickets and find several couples who are eager to go. Others want to trade in their Blue tickets for the Red. The forecast for Sunday is sunny and hot (90’s). We discover that the VIP tickets, Red or Gold, don’t mean we’ll be sitting, but we’ll be close to the ropes under the platform. Older women friends with more years of experience decline our offer. They know their limitations.

We offer a ride to our friend and Sunday we pick her up around 3:00 in order to be in the parking lot of the stadium in good time. There will be shuttle buses. We knew Al’s crowd had materialized when we approached the exit on I-75 to the town. A long line of cars was waiting in the right hand lane to exit; cars from, it seemed, all over the state and southern Michigan. We inched slowly forward and found a place to park. And, yes there were shuttle buses – TWO of them and a van. There are three or four young trees at the edge of the lot so the line for the shuttles formed under them while the button-hawkers moved among us. As the buses arrived people got off muttering that they had been prevented from entering the blocked off area in town because the place was already sold out. If you didn’t have a Red you were out of luck. Our Gold tickets allowed us to enter a special security gate with tents for media and their laptops. We moved between the passage in the roped off section just to the left of the speakers’ mikes. Raised platforms for cameras and sound people were behind and beside us. The crowd in our area was jammed in and many had been there for hours already. We couldn’t see the length of the street where most of the viewers stood, but we knew it had to be packed in.

And so we waited. Our friend has a son who is a director for ABC. He has been in Afghanistan and Iraq off and on over the last year, coordinating the reports that have come from the embedded ABC reporters during the fighting and since. It is hard to be a mother of soldiers and I suspect almost as hard to have a child in the circumstances reporters have had to suffer in this past “unpleasantness.” We’ve heard about her anxieties in the past months and her relief when he returns to New York from time to time. Now Drew is travelling with the ABC crew on one of the buses following the Kerry campaign’s trip across the country. While we waited in line for the shuttle, our friend dialed up her son to check on the progress of the caravan from Springfield, Ohio toward Bowling Green. Forty-five minutes away at that time… not too long a wait for us. We parted company with her before heading to our designated spot since she had a Red ticket and we were Gold. We arranged to meet her at the corner where we’d left her.

Our time waiting in the sun, facing west, was spent listening to the happy music spraying over us from the speakers high up in the surrounding buildings. Sharp shooters patrolled the rooftops and watched the crowd through binoculars. All of them wore black suits and black sunglasses. It must be a uniform. I saw a small private plane cruising lazily in the sky and wondered if some airforce interceptor would come to force him down. A huge scenic backdrop on the platform had been created showing the town’s main street and blocking off the adjacent buildings’ windows and doors. It reminded me of a piece of high school theater scenery. And now as I think back I’m surprised that there didn’t appear to be any protesters or Bush/Cheney people to challenge the crowd. I read in the moning paper that some were there, but not in our area.

Soon advance people showed up to inspect the venue. And then came the secret service people to be sure all was secured. Al, sweating profusely, came to the mike and then one by one the politicians running for office and those holding office mounted the platform. Marcy Kaptur, the current Congresswoman from the 9th District spoke. She introduced our Robin Weirauch, who, although completely fluent and comfortable in a house party situation seemed ill at ease. She read from notes and stumbled a bit. Oh well…this mother hen knows that experience comes a bit at a time and more exposure to the old war horses will give her instruction in how to shout sound bites and raise a gesture of defiance or promise. Other candidates spoke – or shouted – and then came the incumbents running for another term in the state or federal houses. At last the main event arrived. The huge Kerry bus formed another backdrop as it parked sideways across the street. John Glenn was part of the group and spoke about all the flag officers who were on the stage at the convention in support of Kerry. Again he said he found that extraordinary. Elizabeth Edwards introduced her husband who introduced his running mate. To our disappointment Teresa wasn’t there having been excused to go tend a sick relative. John Edwards’ speech was succinct and familiar. He introduced John Kerry who spoke much of what we have heard and read. I know now that he had been told of the current terrorist threat to New York and Washington’s financial districts, but no mention was made of this, of course. It must be difficult to know how to handle these recurring calls to protect ourselves. Howard Dean is frank to say that he thinks they’re political in nature, but Kerry can’t say this. And after all, who really knows?

We left around 5:30 or 6:00 as the crowds dispersed. We waited for our friend at the designated spot but a long time passed before she finally showed up. She came from the area we’d been standing in ourselves with her son in tow. He and we talked a bit about the speeches – Dad saying that Kerry’s was too long and Drew replying, “He tries.” I’m sure it must be hard to say all you have to in a half hour or so, but at the end of a long wait in the hot sun the troops were beginning to get restless. Still, it was another memory we’ll always hold and since yesterday we’ve heard from several friends who say they were in “the perfect spot in the shade” and that they had a marvelous time.

We have learned also that the small and medium towns in Ohio will be the focus of more of the campaign’s attention. These in Ohio are, by and large, conservative and Republican. If John Kerry can make a dent here – and his calling attention to the deficit and the mess in Iraq should resonate with these constituents – he well could make up the 3-1/2% of the overall Ohio vote that Gore lost in 2000.

Faithful Correspondent