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For would-be presidents, nonstop in final stretch

For would-be presidents, nonstop in final stretch

EDITOR'S NOTE _ One in a pair of stories exploring one day on the campaign trail with Barack Obama and John McCain.
By JENNIFER LOVEN
Associated Press Writer
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (AP) _ "Hey, mom, how are you?" Barack Obama yelled into somebody's cell phone, complying briefly but happily with yet another star-struck stranger's request to impress a far-off friend or relative. This time it was from inside a barber shop, but this sort of thing happens to Obama many times each day, just one illustration of the near-phenomenon that is his campaign to capture the White House.
A snapshot of one day on the trail with the 47-year-old Illinois senator, taken exactly two weeks out from Election Day and nearly 21 months after he began his campaign, reveals what a grind it is to seek the presidency. It also displays the ways that this campaign by the first black man with a clear shot at the presidency is no ordinary one.
The day was 18 hours of nearly hyperkinetic activity, of meals jammed in between appearances, relaxation coming only in the form of hushed conversations with foreign policy gurus or campaign staff while ESPN played in the background.
Up before dawn, Obama dashed across south Florida and finished the day in a bed in a Virginia hotel after midnight.
In between, he led a 95-minute discussion of the economy with several governors and a former Federal Reserve chairman while 1,700 people looked on, spoke to 30,000 at an outdoor rally, grinned for untold numbers of photos with police officers, caterers, drivers, campaign volunteers and others, shook hundreds _ if not thousands _ of hands, and gave 13 interviews. He alighted in nine locations across seven cities and two states, not even idle during transport, talking on the phone, in staff meetings and schmoozing with politicians on his bus.
There was a personal bright side: Obama's schedule made a rare midweek intersection with his wife's for a few hours late in the day.
There were also largely unseen thoughts of grief and loss.
The night before, Obama's campaign had revealed that his grandmother was gravely ill and that the candidate would leave the campaign trail later in the week to visit her in Hawaii. He was determined not to repeat the mistake he made nearly 13 years earlier, when he failed to reach his dying mother's bedside in time.
His grandmother, 85-year-old Madelyn Payne Dunham _ Obama calls her "Toot" _ is the only person still alive of those who raised him. What if he lost her? What if he won, and none of his familial mentors saw it? How would it feel to see her for possibly the last time?
Obama mentioned none of these anxieties publicly. But when a woman called out to Obama at a diner that she had his grandmother in her prayers, he blanched. For an almost imperceptible moment, he appeared completely stricken. Then he thanked the woman and moved on, smiling, down a row of outstretched hands.
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Obama awoke at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 21, in a resort on a wind-swept stretch of Palm Beach. By 8:43 a.m., he had conducted interviews with radio stations in North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada and was out the door to catch a workout.
The interviews are a key part of his campaign strategy. A candidate doesn't just campaign where he is, but in other crucial battlegrounds, too. Any day on the trail _ like this one _ finds the candidate spending more time talking to far-flung local interviewers than actually appearing at traditional campaign events.
Bypassing his luxury hotel's gym, Obama was driven more than six miles (10 kilometers) in a motorcade of seven vehicles accompanied by at least two dozen motorcycles, to a strip mall's Planet Fitness. Wearing his never-changing workout uniform of gray T-shirt and black sweat pants, he spent 25 minutes walking a treadmill and lifting weights.
As with everything he does, his workout attracted a crowd. People gawked at him through the gym's plate-glass windows while fellow exercisers asked for his autograph. Planet Fitness employee Natalie Aguirre said workers thought the Secret Service agents who arrived ahead of the man they have code-named "Renegade" were businessmen trying to sell something _ or joking. When Obama actually appeared, "I didn't know what to say what to do," the 21-year-old said.
"He was really just a normal person," Aguirre said.
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Just before 11 a.m., Obama, now showered and in a suit, left the resort again, this time taking his standard campaign bus _ a giant, black-from-rim-to-rim and seriously imposing vehicle.
En route to Palm Beach Community College, Obama had a conference call with the leadership of the AFL-CIO, mindful that union members can still make the difference for Democratic candidates.
His entourage pulled up to the school to a rock-star greeting. Backstage, Obama briefed governors and business leaders there for the economic round-table and chatted with staff while absentmindedly tossing a basketball (a frequent habit). When he finally strode into the gymnasium, he was welcomed with frantic screaming that rivaled what he'd seen outside.
"I love you back," said Obama.
He reined in the exuberant crowd with an almost scolding reminder that quiet was required for this event. About an hour in to the discussion, the wonky subject matter and steamy temperatures took their toll; people had quieted to the point that some nodded off and others simply filed out.
Afterward, it was the standard drill for Obama: He sat down to affix his distinctive "BO" scrawl to the stack of books and other items that autograph-seeking supporters had shoved at aides, probably 40 items in all. He wolfed down lunch, some salmon. Then he spent about an hour doing still more local interviews, this time via satellite with television stations in battleground states: two hitting Virginia markets, two in North Carolina and three in Pennsylvania. Throughout the day, he never spoke once to the national media pack that travels with him everywhere he goes.
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By 3:11 p.m. Obama's motorcade had made the hour-long drive from the community college in Lake Worth to a duplex in a gritty part of Fort Lauderdale.
"How ya' doin' guys?! Don't want to interrupt your cut!" he barked as he burst into a old-timey barber shop called the Neighborhood Unisex Salon.
Then he went next door, his Secret Service agents struggling to cut a path for him through exuberant throngs, to a cramped Obama campaign office buzzing with excitement. Obama bucked up the troops with a pep talk about getting Floridians to the polls _ and winning, of course.
"Until you came along, I was a Republican," said Richard Long, a white retiree spending his days getting out the vote in nearby black projects.
Then it was down the road again, to The Deli Den for another unannounced stop, known in campaign parlance as an OTR, or "off the record."
Obama ordered and paid for two plastic bags of food from the deli counter, a half-pound (0.2 kilogram) of whitefish salad, some Nova lox, bagels and cream cheese, latkes and three black-and-white cookies, and wandered around the restaurant tables. As he worked the unruly rope line that had formed outside, his security again jostled with the pulsing crowd.
One man, his face incredulous, yelled into a phone: "Yes! I'm only five feet (1.5 meters) away from him!"
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After another long bus ride, Obama met up with his wife, Michelle, at a Miami hotel where they waited until time for a rally that was already rocking a park a short distance away. The couple gently joshed each other about who could draw the biggest crowds _ as if there was any question. The rally attracted 30,000 people _ the kind of eye-popping number that has become commonplace for Obama.
Later, with the audience gone and darkness fallen, Obama's day was far from done.
He signed another stack of books. He taped an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," dancing alone before the cameras on a patch of concrete. He chatted with Florida's former governor and senator, Bob Graham. He and Michelle crammed in a 15-minute dinner on the bus. He answered a few questions from a group of local black reporters. He posed for more pictures. And he sat down in an elaborately laid-out tent for an interview with Univision's Don Francisco.
After saying goodbye to Michelle, who was spending the next day in Florida, he spent the bus ride to the airport in phone consultations with campaign staff back in Chicago, as baseball clips flashed on the giant flat screen. He spent the flight to Richmond, Virginia, with foreign policy advisers who were traveling with him ahead of a high-profile meeting scheduled for the next day.
Bedtime: 12:30 a.m.
"What an extraordinary day," he had said earlier in Miami, shaking his head as the sun set over the sea of people.
___
Associated Press writers Ann Sanner and Jim Drinkard in Washington contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-03-08 11:57 GMT+08:00