CRAWFORD, Tex. -- At the fire station where President Bush voted this morning, White House senior adviser Karl Rove, who frequently clowns around on the campaign trail, racked up Bush confidante Karen Hughes by loudly offering an exaggerated, for-public-consumption cell-phone conversation with Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie for the cameras.
"My God! What? That's great news -- unbelievable," Rove hammed it up. "Unbelievably good news. Really, Ed? That's what you're hearing from the key battleground states?"
By now, everyone within earshot was laughing.
"Republican areas are turning out in huge numbers all across the country? Chairman -- Chairman Gillespie, you're doing a fabulous job in getting out the Republican vote."
The e-mails started popping up shortly after the Bush-Cheney campaign announced that the vice president would make a last-minute detour in his campaign schedule to include a stop in Honolulu.
"Aloha!" one friend wrote. Another asked if it was true. "Are you going to Hawaii??" she wrote. "That is so glamorous!"
Well, not exactly.
It didn't take long for the press corps traveling with Cheney to realize the ugly truth. We were going to Hawaii, all right. For two hours. At night. To get there, we would fly all night from New Mexico. And after our 120 minutes in paradise, we would be back on the plane for another six-and-a-half-hour flight to Colorado Springs for a morning rally.
That prompted the White House doctor who travels with Cheney to walk up and down the aisle of the plane, handing out sleeping pills from a brown paper bag. Air Force Two, you see, is really just only slightly better than flying a discount airline. The seats have a little more legroom, and there are free toothbrushes and toothpaste in the bathroom, but it's nothing as luxurious as Air Force One. Even the vice president doesn't have a bed; the best he can do is a pullout couch.
A photographer aboard started casually referring to our jaunt as the voyage of the damned.
Randy DeCleene, Cheney's deputy press secretary, tried to make the best of it when he handed us our press credentials moments after we landed in Honolulu. They were bright, cheery orange, and Randy had scrawled "Aloha!" on each one.
When we stepped off Air Force Two at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu at 3 a.m. Washington time, a cluster of young girls in floral dresses draped leis strung from fuchsia orchids around our necks. I took a deep whiff of mine, breathing in its sweetness.
Whizzing into downtown in the motorcade, I stared out the van windows, trying to imagine what it might look like in daylight. In the fluorescent glow of restaurant signs, karaoke clubs and shopping plazas, it seemed a lot like Florida.
At the rally, we were treated to some traditional drumming and dancers with flaming batons. I ate one piece of exquisite pineapple from a table of snacks in the back of the convention hall.
Then it was back in the van, back in the motorcade, back to the plane. I kept the lei around my neck for the entire return flight, burying my nose in it as it started to turn brown.
MILWAUKEE--Everything about the presidential campaign is bigger here than it's ever been. There are more ads, more money, more campaign workers, more enthusiasm for the cause on both sides of the battle. The state headquarters for both President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry are more intense and passionate than this reporter has ever witnessed.
Then again, some things remain the same. For staffers, the work remains difficult, low-paid, endless and, as always, is conducted in substandard surroundings. "The donuts are stale, the coffee is bad and the hours are long," says Democratic press secretary Justin Hamilton.
Hamilton, 29, has been on the job here for only a few weeks; his normal vocation is as an aide to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). He's on leave from the congressman's office and as a Democratic staffer here is getting what he calls "the Ramen noodle subsistence salary." He's constantly on the verge of catching a cold and stuffs his pockets with medicine to ward off the worst of the disease.
But, he says, "You suck it up" because he believes in his cause. Four years ago, he said, he was working for an oil-industry giant in Houston and watching the presidential campaign via TV from his couch. He vowed not to be a bystander again and is thrilled to be on the front lines this time around, despite the personal hardships.
"I love it," he says and means it completely. For him and many others, this election is as big as they come.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The look on the streets of New Mexico for the serious President Bush supporter is a blazing red shirt with a bold political message: "367 in the 505." Printed in big black numbers on the back of a long-sleeved T-shirt, it's the kind of eye-catching slogan that arouses curiosity. So what does it mean?
Four years ago, Bush lost New Mexico by 366 votes, the closest margin of the 50 states in that controversial contest. And the area code for the entire state is 505. So, explains Danny Lopez Diaz, Bush campaign spokesman in New Mexico, the Bush team is looking to do at least one vote better on Tuesday, especially this year when Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry are in dead heat and New Mexico's five electoral votes are even more crucial than they were in 2000.
WATERLOO, Iowa, Oct. 31 -- Sen. John Edwards's campaign got a taste of Halloween on Sunday, courtesy of an NBC News cameraman and sound technician: The pair dressed as a bottle of ketchup and a bottle of mustard.
"It's hard to concentrate when the cameraman has that mustard suit on back there," Edwards (D-N.C.) said playfully toward the outset of his speech at a rally in an airport hanger here.
The crew, which is among the traveling press following John F. Kerry's running mate, also appeared in their red and yellow tubes and lid-shaped hats earlier in Columbus, Ohio, as Edwards went door-to-door in a ward that President Bush carried by only a dozen votes in 2000.
While the costumes attracted plenty of gawkers in the middle-class neighborhood and were a hit among other members of the press, it's not clear that Teresa Heinz Kerry would have approved. The brand of the bottle of ketchup appeared generic.
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