Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Presidential Spotlight Shines on Wisconsin

While this blog focuses on "The World of Sports from Wisconsin's Perspective", we do like to mix it up a little bit (and actually, Bear's Gauntlet reviews seem to be one of the more popular features here). And with Wisconsin's Presidential Primary now just two days away, this great state has seen a lot of high profile candidates, as well as their supporters. In my real job, I've been able to go to many of these events, and wanting to share my experience to any one willing to listen.

My busy week reporting on the campaign visits started Tuesday with a visit from Chelsea Clinton. Chelsea made a brief introduction, and then took questions from the audience for roughly an hour. The media was restricted to an area they call the "bullpen" during her visit, which can be frustrating. As media, we do get access to the candidates others don't, but it didn't make sense to me why people could go right up to the stage and take a picture, while we couldn't move past the barracades. Her visit wasn't the most exciting, but it did get the week of visits rolling.

Thursday Mike Huckabee made an appearance at the convention center downtown. There were about 200 people on hand to see the Republican candidate with a long-shot at winning the nomination. The weird thing about these media events are the two different, lets say, "classes", of the media. The first class is the local press. To us, these candidate visits only happen once every four years, and it's a huge deal to us. We arrive at their events two hours early (or more) and set up. Kind of a hurry up to wait sort of thing. We set up the live streams, either for our channel or our web site, and then we sit there. If you're ever at one of these events, and wonder at what point the candidate actually arrives, just look for when the national media arrives. That's the next class of media. They are the guys that travel with the candidate, come in, tape the speech they've heard day in and day out, and then leave. They are basically there to see if the candidate screws up or does something wrong. It's weird because the local media talks amongst themselves, and the national press does as well, but there is barely ever any communication between the two.

I enjoyed Huckabee's speech, I think he does a good job of engaging the audience, blending humor and his message. Afterwards, made himself available to the media, which is always a plus. We went into a backroom with about 30 people, and the locals would ask "How important is Wisconsin to you", "What do you like about campaigning here", and the national media would ask questions about the issues. Sometimes I think it's unfair when the following happens: A incident happens abroad. The candidate is forced to come up with a position on it. The press asks him about it, and the candidate gives their rehearsed answer. I don't see what that purpose that serves. Just today I got an email from the Clinton campaign about the Kosova Independence. I don't know.

Later that night, former President Bill Clinton was in town, speaking to a thousand or so people, mostly students. Bill spoke for about 75 minutes, which is longer than a typical appearance. He may have lost some students in the middle of his speech, which reminded some of more of a lecture than a campaign stop. But, the man is a good public speaker, and ended strongly. He then stayed afterwards, signing autographs and shaking hands with whomever was interested. Overall, I was impressed by the former President. (Also on this day Kal Penn and the guy from Superman returns campaigned for Obama, but I unfortunately didn't get to see what Kumar had to say.)

On Friday, the likely Republican nominee John McCain held a town hall meeting at a downtown hotel. He spoke for about 15 minutes and then took questions from the audience. Prior to this a video was shown which reflected his life and the story of him surviving as a Prisoner of War. The room wasn't big enough for the crowd, I'd say about 500 people showed up to see McCain. I was impressed with the guy, he handled the questions well as is a good public speaker. He should have a good shot at the the Oval Office.

Finally on Saturday, I was able to attend a Barack Obama rally. This was the largest event of the week, in terms of security and attendance. We had to set up 2 1/2 hours early, so that they could do a "sweep" of the facility. It was the only appearance of the week that I was issued a press credential and was checked with a metal detecting wand.

Four thousand people were able to see Obama in the loudest rally of the week. I've seen Obama's stump speech a few times on TV before, and he stuck mostly to script. A few of the interesting moments included when he spotted an Eau Claire resident with an "Eau-Bama" shirt, and then when he threw a water bottle to a spectator. She dropped it, and someone from the crowd yelled, "She could play for the Bears!" I was surprised that Obama gave time to the local media afterwards. Unlike the Huckabee mosh pit, Barack gave five minutes to each local station. I was able to ask him a few questions about his experience, healthcare and Iraq, and if he thinks he can win Wisconsin. It was a quite an experience, and so far the biggest interview I've ever done.

The next couple of days are low on appearance in the area. Michelle Obama will be here tomorrow. After that, the primary is on Tuesday and then Wisconsin won't see another visit until later in the campaign. It's the kind of week I've been waiting for when I was hiring as a reporter, and was one of the busiest and most entertaining weeks of my professional life.

And for the Wisconsin readers, remember to vote on Tuesday!


Anonymous said...

I want to take time to thank you for giving me the only political news that I follow. I don't want debates or watch the 10pm news, I just watch Bart Winkler reporters on So I thank you for your excellent coverage. Feel free to share that with your boss.

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