Greetings from Ferraroland. Population: about 100, a portable tribe of politicians, Secret Service agents, journalists and other vagabonds thrown together by an accident of history and wandering across America in a succession of rickety airplanes.
Life is passing strange in Ferraroland, but kind of fun anyway. Even the candidate seems to be enjoying the ride, despite some well-publicized doubts last month about whether the spotlight was worth the concomitant heat. Not only has she conquered an admitted aversion to big crowds, but now seems enamored of the madding mob and its chants of "Ger-ry! Ger-ry!"
Geraldine will never be described as silver-throated -- not so long as her vowels retain such a raspy loyalty to Queens -- and she occasionally lapses into an odd colloquial diction, as when she told a crowd in Sacramento, "Now, guys, I'm not in any way putting in anything negative for you, but women are living on a lot less money." Yet Ferraro's oratory contains enough moxie to convert the curious to admiration; whether they're converted into Democrats remains to be seen.
Much of the campaign thus far has been spent in what one wit dubbed the Granola Belt -- the Yuppie country of the Pacific Northwest and New England -- where the Democrats desperately need the Volvo vote. Of the 14 days Ferraro has spent on the campaign trail since her first solo trip in mid-August, five have been in Oregon or Washington.
One notable exception was the Labor Day parade in New York, which drew such a sparse crowd that Francis O'Brien, a movie producer turned Ferraro press secretary, later joked, "I'm sensitive to the movies. We were trying to remake 'On the Beach.' " O'Brien, whose credits include "Gallipoli," also drew blood in the Walter F. Mondale camp when he suggested that the parade illustrated Mondale's organizational genius in persuading all 8 million New Yorkers to stay off the streets.
Among the inner circle of characters advising Ferraro, O'Brien is straight from Central Casting. His wardrobe, given to tweeds, is a standing joke among the tribe. During the Labor Day parade, O'Brien reportedly was mistaken for a Calvin Klein mannequin in Saks Fifth Avenue. Steve Engelberg, an attorney turned campaign-issues director, says O'Brien's "school colors were mauve and wedgewood."
Not unlike their candidate, the staff is irrepressible, smart, funny and largely inexperienced at running a national political campaign. Like the candidate, they are learning on the run. Interspersed among the successes, such as the huge, jubilant rally in Seattle on Aug. 16, are occasional duds.
For example, on Aug. 25 in Montgomery, Ala., Ferraro paid a visit to Gov. George C. Wallace. After conferring privately, the two politicians appeared on the veranda of the governor's mansion for what is known in the trade as a "photo opportunity." As the cameras clicked and pencils scribbled, Ferraro presented a bushel of New York apples to Wallace, who muttered something inaudible before wheeling around and vanishing into the foyer, leaving the press corps futilely searching for a point. As one television correspondent sarcastically observed, "Well, that should turn it around."
Other things sometimes appear to fall through the cracks. Two weeks ago campaign aides leaked the story that Ferraro's husband, John A. Zaccaro, had overpaid his 1980 federal income taxes by thousands of dollars. Although Ferraro confirmed the overpayment, the campaign has been unable to prove the assertion and has produced no evidence from Zaccaro's accountants or the Internal Revenue Service to support the story.
Everyone in Ferraroland has a favorite vignette. A sign next to the driver of the press bus in Los Angeles last month warned, "Watch out for me, I am pure evil." Another enduring image: a flight attendant shoving a crate full of Egg McMuffins down the aisle with her foot during a Fourth Estate feeding. And there is little false bravado among the press corps when it comes to the obscure charter companies ferrying Ferraro around the nation. In St. Louis, the pilot apologized for "that short landing but there was an F18 that didn't clear the runway where it was supposed to," and a frightened voice from the rear spoke for all: "WE DON'T WANT TO KNOW."