Riding with Obama – Trick or Treat

November 1, 2008

Reuters Washington staff photographer Jason Reed is traveling with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Barack Obama through election day November 4. He and his colleague Brian Snyder traveling with the McCain campaign are posting daily photographers blog entries sharing their experiences and favorite pictures of the day from their campaign coverage.

TRICK OR TREAT! – Obama brings Halloween home.
Following a Halloween pumpkin shopping spree in Florida on Thursday (previous blog entry), U.S. Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama brought it home on Friday to celebrate Halloween with the family in Chicago. After carrying his pumpkin off the plane, Obama was soon spotted walking down the street in his neighbourhood, with his 7-year-old daughter Sasha in her ‘corpse bride’ outfit, as they went to visit with neighbors at a Halloween party.

The Obama ‘protective travel pool’, introduced only in recent months, now travels everywhere with the presidential nominee, a tight group of journalists, photographers and a television crew – with one spot being reserved for a Reuters News Pictures still photographer. The protective pool, similar to that of the U.S. president as part of the White House coverage, is in place in the event of news occurring that would require a presence of the media to record it, such as a presidential or candidate statement on an overseas crisis, or after all of the past attacks on U.S. presidents and U.S. presidential candidates, an attempt by someone to harm the candidate. For the most part however, it is just an exercise in endless patience.

Participation in the protective pool requires hours of patiently waiting for any chance of news and always requires an extremely early morning wake up time, even when the only thing to cover is the senator traveling one mile from his hotel to a local gym in the wee hours of the morning for a workout before starting his official engagements for the day. As with some recreational presidential movements in the Bush administration, Obama gym trips are “off the record” and not something we can photograph, a rule ordained by this particular campaign. We are there just ‘in case’ a newsworthy event or occurrence develops to cover that is not planned. If something truly striking or newsworthy other than him just walking in and out of a gymnasium occurs we will certainly photograph it and have pictures of it on the wire within minutes regardless of the “off the record” rule.

Another example of this protective coverage that rarely produces newsworthy pictures is when the president (or in this case the senator) goes out to a dinner at a restaurant or private home and the White House or presidential campaign media pool sit in a van outside for hours at night while our subject is inside enjoying his meal. A good suggestion for those wanting to experience this hurry-up-and-wait existence – be sure to bring an iPod and/or a good book!
Not expecting to see Senator Obama during his few precious hours at home with his family for Halloween on Friday, which is a much needed break from his busy campaigning in the remaining days of this election, the protective pool stood by just down the street from his house, now a miniature fortress of U.S. Secret Service roadblocks and fences in an upscale Chicago neighbourhood. As Halloween night unfolded, cute little kids started wandering around the streets with their parents, knocking on doors and seeking candy and chocolates from generous neighbours. In a departure from the norm of kids dressed as ghouls and witches, we couldn’t believe our luck when a boy came on the scene, dressed as none other than Barack Obama. Bored and looking for something to do, some local press and the Obama press travel pool pounced on the chance to ‘interview’ the boy, who took it all in his stride and asked people ‘Can I count on your vote?’

As the light faded and night drew closer, we heard that Obama himself was on the move. Jumping into the travel pool bus, we quickly learned that Obama was going to visit with neighbors at a Halloween party a couple of blocks away, and he was going to walk the few blocks to get there!

After circling in the bus once around the block we spied Obama with his daughter Sasha already on a sidewalk near his home, and we all poured out of the bus to take advantage of the precious few seconds that he would be visible, before respecting his request that we be as unintrusive of his time with his children as possible. We shot a couple of pictures and left him alone. A Polish television crew, operating independently of the campaign staff chaperoned travel pool across the street, and who claimed not to have understood enough English to understand the situation, pursued Obama down the street, inspiring the presidential nominee to break into a run.

The accompanying journalists all speculated on the reason why the stroll became a jog. It was an unusual moment that was uncharacteristic for a man who has a reputation for keeping cool under pressure. Who would have guessed that it was the press that would spook Obama on Halloween?

For the account from the Reuters news wire of the incident see: Rare flash of anger from Obama on Halloween night.

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