Howard Dean may have blown through $40 million, but that doesn’t mean reporters covering him are living the lush life. Never slow to complain, campaign-trail journalists have been trading travel horror stories about all their candidates.
The John Edwards press corps recently landed in Berlin, New Hampshire, looking forward to dinner and a night at a quaint country inn, only to discover that the van coming to pick them up at the airport had hit a moose en route. “When the van arrived, the windshield was cracked and the headlights were flickering,” says Gloria Riviera, an ABC off-air reporter, adding that she and her compatriots wouldn’t ride in it. After hanging around outside the airport in 3-degree weather for an hour—airport officials had shut the place down—the group was finally rescued. “The state party director’s mom picked us up in her station wagon,” Riviera says.
And while the patrician John Kerry sometimes stays in three-star digs, the penurious (well, in some ways) Dean prefers hotels that cost less than $100 a night—which often have no room service and, worse, no bar. But the campaign outdid itself during a stop in Columbia, South Carolina. Since an ice storm had knocked out power and many hotels were filled with local residents, the Dean staff hooked reporters into a seedy $60-a-night motel, the kind of place that probably rents rooms by the hour. “We didn’t know,” says longtime Dean aide Kate O’Connor. “We were over at another hotel.” As one correspondent for a major newspaper describes the scene, “It was a red-light hotel, right across from a strip club—bulletproof glass, shady characters in the hall.”
As for the Wesley Clark contingent, reporters at one point were so disgruntled at the lack of access to the candidate, they protested with a few choruses of “We Shall Interview” to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.”
For tired, grumpy reporters, the prospect of a decent meal is ever-tantalizing. But in Columbia last week, journalists on the Edwards bus were given sacks of mediocre ham-and-cheese and turkey sandwiches—only to watch with envy and outrage as the senator’s bus pulled up to Palmetto Pig and a waiter handed over trays of takeout. “There are two Americas,” declared Scott Martelle of the L.A. Times. “One has barbecue, one has ham sandwiches.”