John Kerry: Restlessly On the Road
Reserved Candidate Seeks His Comfort Level
By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2004; Page A01
On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton needed the companionship of legions of people, just to talk or play cards through the night. George W. Bush needed his wife, Laura, on board the plane, his feather pillow and plenty of down time.
John F. Kerry just needs to get off the plane.
The protective "bubble" of a presidential campaign is always tedium endured by edgy, ego-driven men who yearn to back-slap and interact. They are confined to the front cabin of a jet for hours on end, hustled from tarmacs into waiting Suburbans and whooshed to underground parking garages. They face crowds they rarely get to meet. The way in which the candidates adjust and cope has long provided a window into their personalities.
For Kerry, independent by nature, the transition from a largely unfettered politician to cloistered nominee has seemed slow and painful, as he tries to find a comfort level both on the road, and in his public persona. His New England reserved, almost laconic demeanor on the trail has worried some Democrats. But his outward demeanor belies a restlessness that has only been exacerbated with the restrictions, according to those close to the presidential candidate.
He has dealt with his rarified confinement by designing his own freedoms and his traveling style -- from a well-utilized cell phone out of the reach of staff, to a virtual traveling gym, to the people he chooses -- or doesn't choose -- to invite on his chartered Boeing 757.
Democrats believe that in choosing as a running mate Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), a man who campaigns with ease and charm, Kerry not only compensated for his own stiffness on the trail but also chose someone who may ultimately help loosen up Kerry. When the two men shared a stage in Miami in April, Kerry hugged Edwards, made jokes and seemed almost giddy. And, as he traveled the country with his new running mate last week, Kerry seemed more energetic than he has in months, smiling widely, toting Edwards's 4-year-old son Jack and making jokes about how their ticket has "better hair" than the opponents. In a joint interview Friday aboard Kerry's campaign plane, Kerry enthused, "We are really having fun."
But this week the double fun ends as the men hit the road separately -- and Kerry must again go it alone.
A zealous athlete and outdoorsman who rides an $8,000 custom Serotta Ottrott bicycle and thinks nothing of wind surfing, Kerry, 60, has found precious little time to stretch his legs. No longer can he wander off solo for a 30-mile bike ride. He has repeatedly asked that time be built into the schedule to allow him to exercise outside -- but the time, aides say, simply evaporates.
Undaunted, he often tries to just steal it back. In Chicago this month, he started to ascend the stairs of his plane after a speech, and then turned on his heels, demanded his football and proceeded to toss the ball with staff -- an increasingly familiar scene for those looking out the windows waiting to depart. "I really need some fresh air," he tells aides on a daily basis.
"It's a very unnatural process because you're being told to limit your exposure when your instincts tell you to get out and see people," said David Morehouse, Kerry's senior traveling aide. "I think it's particularly hard on John Kerry because he's very active."
Aides say that for Kerry, it's not just a matter of carving out an hour at the hotel gym; a stationary bike is delivered to his hotel room at most stops. "He needs to be outside or he needs a vigorous sport," said Michael Meehan, who has worked for Kerry for 18 years. "And on the road it's kind of hard to find 12 men and an ice hockey rink at the last minute."
So Kerry settles for what he can get. Before he boards the plane for every swing, his staff members make sure the required accoutrements are on board: the bicycle (which is toted off and on the plane but barely ridden); his classical guitar (Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" is one of his new favorites); three decks of cards (Hearts is his game); and a red, white and blue duffle bag filled with three catcher's mitts, one baseball and one football.
His regular senior traveling entourage includes Morehouse, 43, a veteran of Al Gore's campaign and the Clinton administration who is the effective traveling chief of staff; spokesmen Stephanie Cutter and David Wade; and personal aide Marvin Nicholson, the "body man" who refers to himself as the "chief of stuff." There are also another half-dozen or so staff members who write speeches, give advice or herd the traveling reporters.
Of great curiosity to campaign veterans is that Kerry does not have a "first friend" on board -- a family member or longtime buddy who is his age, has no agenda, can tell him if he's being a jerk and can get staff to back off. Clinton had Bruce Lindsey, an Arkansas friend he had known for decades, and Gore and Wesley K. Clark had their brothers-in-law travel with them.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Sen. John F. Kerry, left, and spokesman David Wade on his campaign plane with reporters, with whom the candidate has grown more cautious.
(Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)