YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Where the crowds -- and the news -- are

October 22, 2008|JAMES RAINEY

FROM MIAMI — One day a few years back, the old newspaperman who sat across from me pressed a phone to his ear and scowled. The reporter on the other end of the line was reaching for an ambitious metaphor to describe a brush fire.

"No, no, no," he barked. "Turn around. Look up the mountain. Tell me what you see. Just tell me what you see."

I remembered those words as I sat in the press tent at Miami's Bicentennial Park, where Barack Obama appeared Tuesday evening. So I stepped outside, and this is what I saw: a sea of people stretching out to a hill 100 yards from the stage. Women waving their arms in praise. Men hollering into the balmy twilight. Children hoisted on shoulders, their cameras flashing like fireflies.

In other words, a spectacle. A love-in. A happening.

Some of the nation's top political reporters typed away in the tent, venturing out for a moment or two to view the crowd. But for the most part, they kept a distance.

They saw multitudes. They read the polls. They couldn't miss the realization that Obama's Boeing 757 kept touching down in states like Florida, which the Democrats have not won since Bill Clinton. The boys and girls on the bus think they know where this is heading. They will be surprised if Obama does not win.

But they are cautious too. Some have been with Obama long enough to recall how the senator from Illinois cruised out of the Iowa caucuses, only to run into an iceberg in New Hampshire called Hillary Rodham Clinton. And they know how John McCain came back before after being declared dead.

The Obama press corps writes what it sees, but only sparingly. They know there is so much more that could upend what seems like a glide path for Obama. The ads. The robocalls. The chance of news no one anticipated.

"Fall Out Boy gets crowds this big," Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal said at the Miami rally, referring to the pop punk band. "But I don't think they are going to end up in the White House.

"You can't learn anything about the outcome based on how big the crowd is," Weisman continued. "These are the people who are already convinced."

Still, the reporters who spend the most time with Obama can see that the candidate's staff has a certain bounce in their step of late.

McCain's top aides have hunkered down, clearly embattled. Lately they've been living out their strategy of media vilification -- traveling less with the candidate and giving fewer interviews to reporters.

Obama's plane seems positively sunny in contrast. Top strategist David Axelrod, once a reporter, sat within arm's length of reporters as they filed their stories earlier Tuesday at a round table in Lake Worth, Fla. He answered questions from all comers.

"This campaign is acting like it's about to win," said one reporter who has been on the trail for months, "and the McCain campaign is acting like it isn't."

That may sound tough, but it's a pillow compared with the rocks columnists on the right have been heaving at Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee. And Ed Rollins, the veteran GOP strategist and White House aide to President Reagan, minced no words nearly two weeks ago on CNN in declaring that McCain was done.

All the more reason for Obama to play it safe, to avoid giving McCain an opening, particularly when engaging his ardent following. Ever since Republicans derided him as a "celebrity" this summer after a rally in front of 200,000 people in Berlin, Obama and his team have tried to tamp down the adulation and ramp up the substance.

Several hundred Floridians inside a sweltering gym at Palm Beach Community College had to stifle their Obamamania on Tuesday as the candidate and his advisors put them through an earnest round table on economics.

Reporters also had trouble warming to the forum, with the candidate and his helpers feigning a deep dive into our most dire problems.

"Hey, we've only got 40 minutes to patch up the world's economy," one wag in the press center said. "We better get going here."

Cynicism comes easily to those who have spent months on the campaign trail. And often for good reason.

But the old reporter writing that fire story years ago offered an important reminder. Sometimes the story, or part of it, is right in front of you.

Polls this year have showed voters intensely engaged. Many have developed a deep bond with their candidate.

You could see it in the eyes of women who looked on Hillary Clinton as their No. 1 girlfriend and best hope of breaking the ultimate glass ceiling.

You can see it in the straight-backed attention, and the occasional salute, that veterans still offer John McCain, their brother in arms.

And you could see it in Miami, in row after row of white, black and brown faces, craning to catch a glimpse of their candidate. An hour after Obama left the stage, knots of his fans still gathered under the klieg lights, chanting "Obama, Obama!"

It's not enough, alone, to win an election. But it's certainly news.


Los Angeles Times Articles