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Landscape, With Candidates

Indelible images from the campaign for the presidential nominations.

The photographic record of the 2008 campaign -- which started, really, in December 2006, when Obama made his first, media-hyped trip to New Hampshire -- will be an enduring catalogue of Americana. These photos prove that running for president is a physical act. It's exhausting. And someone's watching your every move.

The primary season began with stages full of candidates, most of them Forgotten on Arrival. Jim Gilmore: Who dat? Duncan Hunter: Sorry, dudn't ring a bell.

Look at the motley crew of Democrats [Photo 4]: Joe Biden seems ready to catch a tossed watermelon. Chris Dodd is meditating on whether he will finish the race with one delegate or zero (the latter). Bill Richardson is trying to occupy as much of the stage as is anatomically possible. Obama is honking an imaginary horn. John Edwards can't decide if he's thrilled with himself or merely very, very pleased. Dennis Kucinich is pointing to an offstage spaceship from the planet Zorgog. And Hillary Clinton is wondering who the heck is this guy to her left.

The Republicans, meanwhile, have 10 mostly middle-aged white guys running, which is the party's way of saying, "Our idea of diversity is letting a Mormon onstage" [Photo 5].

There were some characters among the also-rans. Ron Paul demanded an end to the war in Iraq, a heretical stance on the Republican stage. Tom Tancredo warned that America was in danger of collapse under the assault of immigrants. Fred Thompson set a new standard for campaign trail sloth -- he could go a week without a single event. Thank God for Mike Huckabee, who jammed on bass guitar and used action hero Chuck Norris as his warm-up act. Huckabee won lots of affection, even as he got bogged down explaining how human beings once lived side by side with dinosaurs, just like in the Raquel Welch movie "One Million Years B.C."

Mitt Romney is the spit-shined guy in the middle of the debate photo: Even from far away, you can tell that he has, inside those wingtips, a pedicure. At no point did a single Romney hair dare to stray. His positions were precision-crafted to please the base. He could write his own checks. What he couldn't buy, though, was the perception of authenticity.

There are stations of the cross in a political campaign. They include the Iowa ethanol plant.

There are, in fact, dozens of Iowa ethanol plants, but for some reason, the one that the candidates tended to visit was in Nevada (Ne-VAY-da), a town just east of Ames [Photo 6]. We see McCain wearing a silly hard hat, silly protective glasses and a silly smile. He's with a group of guys who look very amused, probably because they know that McCain is going to get about three votes in the entire state. McCain doesn't support ethanol subsidies, which means that, in Iowa, he's as popular as an outbreak of corn rust.

Candidates also go to VFW and American Legion halls, where older folks sit in folding chairs and look up at the candidates on a makeshift stage. Veterans are a core McCain constituency. They know what he went through in North Vietnam. For them, he's the one who's the rock star.

Candidates go on TV. We see McCain about to tape a cable news program [Photo 7]. He's standing at attention as if on the deck of an aircraft carrier sailing out of port. His feet are perfectly aligned where the tape on the floor tells them to be. His hands are fists. His smile is a grimace, his grimace a smile.

Candidates go to diners, a form of restaurant that exists in contemporary America solely for the purpose of supplying locales for campaign photo ops. We see Obama eating, or attempting to choke down, a meal in a diner in Manchester, N.H. At this diner, everyone stares at Obama as he eats [Photo 8]. There's a boom mike poised over the table as if trying to sprinkle salt on the senator's lunch. He appears to be chewing with great strain. He leans forward as if something is stuck in his throat, like maybe the idea of Hillary as his running mate.

Candidates go to Dunkin' Donuts. This has been a tradition among Democrats since 1992, when Bill Clinton visited, and ate his way through, every Dunkin' Donuts in New Hampshire. We see Obama looking like he's going to order at a Dunkin' Donuts and show the posse of camera people that he's a real Dunkin' Donuts-patronizing person and not some elitist Starbucks frappuccino sipper [Photo 9]. Because Obama has to appeal to blue-collar Democrats, he has to drink crappy coffee until November. The reason he's taking so long to order at this Dunkin' Donuts is that he's looking for the doughnut with the tofu filling.


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