Thursday, September 18, 2008

McCain-Palin Liveblog

McCain-Palin Liveblog

Anti-war protesters briefly disrupted the John McCain-Sarah Palin rally at the Grand Cedar Rapids airport, and while John McCain adapted, Sarah Palin stuck to the speech.

Here's the liveblog:

8:57 and it's taken me this long to get seated after running the line of shuttle buses and security sweeping. Parking is all at the east end of the airport, and a dozen or so buses are shuttling folks to the west side of the airport, where the private and FedEx hangars that most folks don't usually see are located.

Security line
Security line

About five security stations are sweeping people. I kept beeping, and wondered if the detectors were set to extra sensitive for liberal bias. Turns out I'd left my flash drive in my pocket.

There's a definite made-for-TV feel here, as is inherent in an airport rally. Land, speak, off to the next (in this case, that's Minnesota). Print and radio press are off to the side and can't see the stage. "Obstructed view" if you were going to a ballgame or concert. I'll make sure to reposition.

Music thus far is largely apolitical -- Martina McBride, the theme from St. Elmo's Fire, Mr. Mister (?!?) and Huey Lewis. Like being back in college for me. As Huey runs down the list of geography where the heart of rock and roll is, in fact, still beating, I expect a Deanesque "YEEEEEEEAH!" Van Halen's "Right Now." Van Halen is among the artists that’s grumbled, but Team McCain had paid the ASCAP fees (and Sammy’s a Republican, anyway.)

The view from the Bob Uecker seats. The stage is behind the white corrugated wall.

The view from the Bob Uecker seats. The stage is behind the white corrugated wall.

On the bus over, state Rep. Dawn Pettengill says her campaign is going well and chats about classic rock acts. Miller-Meeks campaign manager Todd Versteegh is stickering the crowd, and congressional candidate Dave Hartsuch is on the scene. I get the idea that the draw of this event is most of Eastern Iowa. No guesses on crowd count yet.

9:33. "7 to 10,000," I overhear a staffer saying on a cell.

Cindy Michel of the Johnson County GOP likes the Palin pick. "She's not an insider that has a whole lot of undesirable baggage."

The music has switched to a live guitarist, now playing "Wonderwall" by my guys Oasis. It's not the same without Liam Gallagher's sneering accent. A flight takes off; my big question is has Team McCain fixed the flight schedule so we don't have a loud takeoff mid-speech? How does that work?

Between songs, boos and the singer: "Now, now, no fights here." By the time I can scurry, game over. Other than that, no between song patter of significance, no "wow isn't it great that John McCain's coming" or anything like that.

As for that flurry of activity: I recognize a few, er... interlopers. "They didn't have a free speech zone," one tells me, "so we're here for some free speech." These particular folks are wearing recognizable colors (purple and gold--and union members know who that is--and making no effort to hide, So Even If U didn't read it here, I'm sure they've been spotted.) (UPDATE: Just to be clear, the purple-clad folks are not the people who shouted during the speeches.)

The Zoo Plane, without snakes.

9:56 and The Surge Is Working... its way toward the rope line. Elvis is here--kind of hard to hide a jetliner with McCAIN-PALIN on the nose. Now that they're here, I'm herded back into the press corral by a self-important volunteer. Oh, I can interact with the crowd -- as long as I'm escorted. The intern sees me writing this, starts to panic, and goes to get someone. Let's see where he goes with this.

10:01 and the national press corps files in during the patriotic and religious rituals. The volunteer's higher-up tries to smooth my feathers, and does OK, but the moment has passed. I just like to see how they handle these things.

I've successfully repositioned so I may be able to see. "God Bless The USA" is dedicated to the nation, the troops, and "our lord Jesus Christ." Still no sightings of the ticket itself.

10:12. Joe Childers, state senate candidate, gets a speaking slot to critique opponent Swati Dandekar. House candidates Renee Schulte and Nick Wagner get slots too. (but, as we noted earlier, Kathy Potts does not.) Mostly boilerplate, with a couple opponent-specific lines each. I follow a scurry of press activity until James Lynch of the Gazette expresses friendly surprise that a blogger's in the pool... oh, the pool. So I slink back.

National anthem time (take off the beret). On the way in, folks were told "no signs"; the standard issue COUNTRY FIRST signs have been distributed which will give that uniform sea-of-signs feel. is in smaller print below. A few people have added slogans like "Go Cyclones" or such.

10:25. "We're about 15 minutes away." I'm just realizing that Team McCain probably has two planes, and what has landed is what Hunter Thompson used to call the Zoo Plane, full of photographers and TV techs who need to set up early, while most of the big name writers and on-camera talent are on the candidate plane.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks
Mariannette Miller-Meeks

10:32 and Miller-Meeks speaks. The teleprompters are in place now. "Drilling in ANWR and offshore" gets biggest response. "As an eye doctor I will bring Congress back into focus." The names Loebsack and Obama are not said. "If you want something done, ask a woman. We won't let the lipstick get in the way."

A former Wasillan (is that the word?) who's moved to Bettendorf is singing the Palin praises. On the talking points, and apparantly the lipstick thing is a meme here. First Bridge To Nowhere and eBay references. The first thing I haven't heard before is "just call me Sarah," as in she's folksy and doesn't like to be called "governor."

10:46 and Hartsuch and Reed get a slot. I'm seeing a plane taxiing, a smaller one than the Zoo plane. Traffic has seemed slower than usual here this AM. The stairs are rolled up and the music cranks to rally levels with Kenny Loggins' Top Gun hit "Danger Zone." What a coincidence, you may not have heard that John McCain was a pilot! The 80s flashbacks return. How will McCain do against Dukakis?

The main plane pulls up right on cue with Van Halen (Van Palin?) This one just says McCAIN. It also says STRAIGHT TALK EXPRESS and has the url on the tail. 10:55. Back door opens first, presumably for the rest of the Zoo. A little more last second cheer rehearsal.

The roar goes up at 11:02 as the ticket deplanes and the rest of the Zoo zooms in behind me. We get Elvis (actual Elvis-"A little less conversation.") Then Garth Brooks and "Standing Outside The FIre." Someone managed to get an unofficial sign, it reads "God Chicks."

The ticket is announced as is First Dude. I turn around and find myself face to face with MSNBC's Kelly O'Donnell.

Palin: "It is so great to be here in GRAND Rapids." OOPS. But she does get the Five Seasons reference right. Some hockey mom references and the well-known introductory lines of First Dude Todd--

HOLD THE PHONE. A half dozen or so anti-war protesters, who look really familiar from the sit-ins I covered last year. I can't hear the chant as it's quickly drowned out by boos and U-S-A! chants. Cedar Rapids Police surround the protesters, who keep chanting, and escort them out. But they're well inside the event, and right in front of the press corps -- the cameras quickly swing their way. I think we have our lede.

Protesters face police as Palin speaks
Protesters face police as Palin speak

The thing is, PALIN JUST KEEPS GOING. Over the hubbub, I can hear Palin reading The Speech, basically the same speech from the convention.

First deviation. "We're going over to look at some of the flood damage." There was some criticism that such a tour wasn't planned in advance, but maybe it was just not announced.

Palin outlines her VP duties: energy czar? And reform. Lots of reform. After some Obama bash, "He won't say this for himself but there's only one man in this race who has ever really fought for you."

At 11:24 Palin intros McCain. The first My Friends is in the first sentence.Praise for the state fair and pork chops on a stick and says "Iowa will be close, my friends."

On to ethics and Obama is "me first country second." The Vote Present meme returns. "Raising taxes in a tough economy is not patriotic, it's just plain dumb."

Another group of protesters shouts and is dragged out more quickly than the first as the crows shouts USA! McCain pauses for the protest then recovers. "The one thing Americans want us to do is stop yellin' at each other." Then he turns it around, invites protesters to the town hall meetings... and bashes Obama again. "Let them come and yell at him, let them stand together." I think that's what he said, I missed the wording. Is it possible he was likening Obama to the protesters?

Just after that he ends with a God Bless America as "Life Is A Highway" (the American version, not the Canadian original) plays. About ten minutes of McCain speech total. At least three "straight talk" references, countless reforms, shakeups, and My Friends.

Protesters. Didn't McCain know Cedar Rapids is right next to Iowa City? "Two protesters. That's all you'll see on the news, two protesters," complains one attendee. Actually I'd guess more like ten. My text messages tell me some had "McCain Votes Against Vets" signs, and that a lot of people left after Palin spoke. I was so far inside the zone that I couldn't tell who left or stayed. But apparently O. Kay Henderson saw the same thing. Again, the most remarkable thing to me about the protests was that McCain was prepped with a response, and even a response that was reasonably on-message, though I missed the wording at the end. But Palin just went on with the speech.

"I wonder if we're just better behaved," Mariannette Miller-Meeks says when I ask about the protest. "I mean, I was at the Obama event (at Coe College in July) and I didn't do anything, I just listened." As for the GOP majority in the crowd, "The natives were restless, it was a long time waiting."

As for Kathy Potts, the GOP candidate who got un-invited and then re-invited to the event, my colleague Lynda Waddington reports that after getting calls to come to the event, Potts drove out to the airport. She says she was physically removed from the event, and escorted out of the building, and that McCain staff and local Republicans argued about her being

Chit-chatting with a CR cop while I wait (see below), he says the protesters were reasonably cooperative. "They said their piece, and when we told them to leave, they left." From what I aw they were walked out, but certainly not dragged out. (From what I remember attending their How To Get Arrested class last year, they discourage going limp because of injury risks and possible additional "resisting arrest" charges. But no one appeared to be getting arrested.)

As of 12:10 both planes are still on the ground. National press is doing lunch (yes, I did get to meet Kelly O'Donnell) and the ticket and First Dude are touring the flood zone with a press pool (so you can get pretty much the same coverage anywhere). We're more or less done as the first noticeable aircraft noise returns. Now -- personal note -- I need the locksmith cavalry, as I locked my keys in my car.

Epiliogue at 12:54. My wife is here to rescue me. The Zoo plane has already left. McCain and Palin work a line of 75 or so die hards who waited, including House candidate Emma Nemecek. I catch snippets of Palin conversation: "You guys are awesome! Thank you so much!" before the Secret Service and schedule watchers cut it short. Channel 7 from Waterloo shouts a question but gets no answer.

Postscript: Here's the unedited, cut-n-pasted email from the protesters. Didn't seem like "dozens" to me, but it was more than the "protester" (singular) that my brother says the Old Media is reporting. My brother's question when I called: "That wasn't you getting thrown out, was it?" No, not me, I'm a respected professional journalist. Besides, you would have seen the beret.

Dozens of students from the University of Iowa were kicked-out of the McCain-Palin rally for speaking out against 4 more years of the same unacceptable policies of George Bush.

During Palin’s rally a group of UI women (including Megan Felt, Hannah Rounds, Laura Kacere, and Marni Steadham) advocated for women’s rights, which are being seriously threatened by the outdated policies of McCain and Palin. They chanted “our body, our choice”, “free abortion on demand”, “equal pay for equal work”, and “Palin, Palin get off our back, women’s rights are under attack!” They also held up a large banner reading “War is menstruation envy!” Following this protest these women were escorted out by the local law enforcement.

Shortly after, a second group of protestors (including UI students Robin Berman, Dan Rathjen, and David Goodner) called Palin and McCain out when they blatantly lied to the crowd about the current economic crisis. In particular, Palin and McCain promised to reform our economy, even though their economic policies are no different than the current administration. These protestors were also escorted out.

Toward the end of the speech McCain talked about his pro-war viewpoint. At the same time, UI graduate student, Justin Feinstein, screamed out, “John McCain, you never learn! We lost in ‘Nam! We lost in Iraq! You can never win in war!” The third wave of students (including Feinstein, Brooke Bachelder, Lara Elborno, Naomi Prager, and Anthony Carter) began loudly chanting, “Bring ‘em back, from Iraq”, “No justice, no peace, U.S. out of the Middle East”, “Wars, wars, that’s his name, 100 more years with John McCain”, and “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”

All protestors were escorted out peacefully and their demonstration is a testament to the 1st amendment rights given to every US citizen. The protestors encourage all people to exercise their right to freedom of speech.

No comments: