Kornblau, the head of Edwards’ traveling press staff, insists press access to the candidate is “pretty good.” On a tarmac in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Kornblau described to Campaign Desk how “every now and then [the traveling press] will have an off-the-record dinner with Edwards.” As he spoke, a Fox News Channel producer came into earshot and raised her eyebrows. Kornblau quickly added, “And by ‘every now and then’ I mean once,” which the Fox producer confirmed with a nod. “But if [the press] ask[s] for time with [Edwards,] 70 to 80 percent of the time they get it,” Kornblau said. The Fox News producer again raised her eyebrows, and Kornblau added, “Unless it’s Bill O’Reilly requesting, then it’s 50-50.”
If the traveling press isn’t getting one-on-one time with the candidate, they do get daily — often two or three times daily — exposure to the candidate’s standard stump speech. At a rally in Newark, New Jersey on Tuesday, a CNN producer mouthed along in perfect synchronicity with Edwards — “What we believe [pause], what ahhh believe” — as if reading from the same mental script. Bonney Kapp, a New York City-based reporter for CBS News who has been traveling with John Edwards since his first solo appearance on July 14, had no trouble identifying the phrases that have worn most thin with her. “When [Edwards] talks about racial inequality,” Kapp explained, “he often asks the crowd, [Kapp turned on an overdone southern drawl] ‘Where should [race] be debated/discussed? Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.’” Also grating, she confessed, is Edwards’ favorite spiel about misleading drug company ads and (accent turned on again) ” ‘how they would have you believe that you and your spouse will be skipping through the fields …’ ” And of course, Kapp added, “hope is on the way” is by now also crazy-making. “You just sort of turn your tape recorder off.” Kapp carries with her a pocket map of the United States, coloring in with an orange highlighter each state she and Edwards have visited. By Tuesday afternoon, New Jersey turned orange on Kapp’s map, leaving white only the state of Mississippi, a swath of the upper Midwest around North Dakota, and a few smaller states here and there.
Edwards impersonations abound on the press bus. Given Edwards’ propensity to refer vaguely to “news reports,” on Tuesday morning, several reporters — after rehashing the previous night’s karaoke bar exploits in New York City — began pointing to stories in the New York Times that Edwards would likely mention that day on the stump. A story on Starbucks raising its prices generated a handful of Edwards imitations. “You can’t afford health care, you can’t make ends meet, you can’t even pay for your coffee anymore,” drawled one reporter. “When John Kerry is president, Starbucks will be cheaper again,” someone else added.
With less than forty days to go, many in the traveling press have grown weary of Edwards’ stump speech, weary of attending rallies and events at which they can find no “news,” weary of covering the vice presidential pick on the challenger’s ticket who ranks fourth out of four candidates in terms of innate “newsworthiness.” On a day that took reporters from rainy New York City to rainy Pittsburgh to rainy Newark, New Jersey, twice someone on the bus bemoaned the fact that Hawaii is not a swing state.
In Pittsburgh, a journalist from outside the campaign trail “bubble” ducked on to the bus to have a brief word with Mark Kornblau. She briefly surveyed the slumped, rain-soaked traveling press corps, and tartly declared that she had heard that “the inverse of the Stockholm syndrome” was “taking hold.”
Then, quickly as she came, she was gone — free, unlike those left behind, from the confines of the bus.