Riding with McCain
Reuters Boston staff photographer Brian Snyder is traveling with the campaign of Republican presidential nominee John McCain through election day.
I first met, photographed and spent time traveling with Senator John McCain more than eight years ago as he campaigned for the 2000 New Hampshire primary during his first try at becoming the Republican party’s presidential nominee.
Back then the photographers (as well as many reporters) rode around on the campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express, right with Senator McCain. Virtually everything was “on the record” and fair game. Senator McCain was very approachable, chatting with the photographers and reporters regularly and getting to know most of us by name. In the end, Senator McCain lost the Republican party’s nomination to then Texas Governor George W. Bush, but I came away from those weeks with a feeling that I had been able to get a rare and very interesting look behind the public veneer of a presidential campaign.
Returning to cover Senator McCain’s 2008 presidential bid has meant a return to familiar faces. But it seems that some of the lessons learned from the 2000 campaign have resulted in considerably less access to the candidate. Even when the campaign goes on a bus tour and the Senator rides on the Straight Talk Express bus, the photographers ride in a separate bus behind him. On his campaign plane, a deliberately drawn curtain consistently separates us from the candidate and his staff. Now glimpses of the person behind the public candidate are rare.
Not too long ago, those of us traveling full-time with Senator McCain sometimes barely saw the candidate in the course of a day. When Senator McCain was in Washington as the U.S. Congress worked to pass an economic bailout bill sometimes the total time we spent photographing Senator McCain in an entire day could be measured in seconds despite riding in his motorcade from dawn until well after dark. Now, our days consist of two or three rallies in different cities and states; though the states are largely, predictably, confined to ones like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado and New Mexico. The rallies are all more or less cookie cutter versions of each other.
As a photographer covering Senator McCain, I cannot get away from, and am always conscious of, his complex personal story. Watching Senator McCain through my lenses, I wonder what drives him to want to be President? What do the crowds, the press, the rigors of the campaign trail look like through the lens of his past as a Navy pilot and POW?
The task is to try to find something fresh at each event, tell the story of this campaign, and, through the accumulation of photographs, create a portrait of John McCain, Republican presidential nominee.
My favorite image from the past few days came from a stop at a farmstand in Plantsville, Florida. The plan was for Senator McCain to buy a strawberry shortcake, so I went behind the counter to shoot over the servers’ shoulders. There were a lot of ways this move could have burned me – the screen above the window would virtually obscure the Senator’s face, the Senator could have taken his strawberry shortcake, turned around away from me and taken a big taste of it. Instead, he ducked his head under and through the window to shake hands with the servers. My gamble had paid off.