GPOWY (on Tues): Re-gramming AP’s @CharlesDharapak’s shot of me and ABC’s @EmilyCFriedman on the tarmac today. (Taken with Instagram)
When I started at The New York Times, fresh out of college, I came bearing only my enthusiasm and a grimy blue backpack that had sustained me through four years of creative writing seminars. There were occasional signs that it might be time for an upgrade to something a bit more professional — the raised eyebrows of colleagues, the eye rolls of my boss as I trotted out to conduct interviews with my knapsack slung over both shoulders. Then, after five years at the Washington, D.C., bureau, I showed up to our New York office, and a security guard, instead of waving me through, eyed me up and down as though I were a wayward teenager who’d just run away from home. Weeks later, a top Mitt Romney staffer laughingly revealed that the first time he’d met me, all he could remember was my blue sack and his confusion as to why some kid, apparently fresh off a backpacking trip through Europe, had been assigned to cover the likely Republican nominee. It was time for a change.
And so I set out to find the perfect campaign trail bag, which is to say: the ideal bag for any young, professional woman. After nearly a year spent traipsing around the country after Romney, I knew it had to be practical and durable, able to carry a hodgepodge of gear and withstand the wear and tear that comes with almost daily plane and bus rides. It had to be big enough to hold everything I needed — laptop and charger, iPhone, BlackBerry, notebooks, recorder, pens, Advil and assorted other miscellany — but not so large or heavy as to be cumbersome when I raced to catch connecting flights. And it had to be professional, able to convey that I was a serious political journalist, but also versatile enough to do double duty as a purse on a night out in Iowa. Of course, it didn’t hurt if the bag also happened to be chic and fashionable.
Life as a daily reporter on the campaign trail is exhilarating — full of trips to unlikely places like Wolfeboro, N.H., and Fargo, N.D.; late-night karaoke sessions; and the adrenaline of breaking news and hard-earned features. But the assignment also means long days of stress and uncertainty, deadlines and editors, exhaustion and dimly lit hotel rooms. Your life is at once narrowly focused and scattered all about, and at times it feels like your entire existence must fit into one little bag. Ideally, a practical yet stylish one. With the help of T Magazine, I road-tested seven very different bags on the campaign trail — and found one to bring home.
(The Coach bag above is the one I ultimately purchased, for a cool $398. But, thanks to the folks at T Style Magazine, I sampled seven bags in all.)
Also: $10,000 if you can guess which Romney staffer was horrified by my blue backpack, and which Romney staffer complimented me on the Coach bag. Hint: They are not same person, and both are men. ***Use the comment feature, people! That’s what it’s there for! Trivial guessing games about folks you don’t know!***
At the last minute, I got sent on a semi-junket to Wolfeboro, N.H., where Romney spent the week of July 4th on vacation with his family. My purpose was to stake-out his lakehouse, “just in case he falls off his boat,” but I interviewed a bunch of people in town and wrote a story about Wolfeboro’s anxiety on becoming the next Kennebunkport. Above are some Instagrams from my visit.
Last month, Romney went on a five-day, six-state bus tour, and we all went along for the ride. (“Welcome to Day One of summer camp!” said traveling press secretary Rick Gorka, by way of warning). The days were long, with lots of driving, and many things happened:
*I discovered bugs, lots of bugs, in my room in Janesville, Wisconsin, but the hotel manager assured me they were not bed bugs — “Potato Bugs,” he offered cheerfully, before explaining they were undergoing a period of “renovation.”
*I rallied to sing late-night karaoke in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I was apparently so bad that the bar felt the need to turn off my mic during my epic rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
*In the middle of a live radio interview, I briefly became so distracted with securing my own mini-pie at our stop at Sweetie-Licious Bakery in Michigan that suddenly I heard the host ask: “Ashley? Ashley? Have we lost you?” (Only briefly, and yes, the cherry pie was delicious and totally worth the dead air).
But, if you’d rather read about Mitt Romney’s adventures — in which he brushed up on banter, but was still delightfully awkward from time to time — here you go, and the beginning is below:
JANESVILLE, Wis. — Mitt Romney’s English is direct and to the point, useful for attacking President Obama on the stump or dismantling his Republican opponents in primary debates. He is even fluent in French. But the one language Mr. Romney doesn’t seem to speak is small talk.
Over a five-day “Every Town Counts” bus tour through six swing states that is scheduled to wrap up on Tuesday, Mr. Romney’s attempts at banter were on sometimes painful display as he toured a factory floor here; scooped chocolate chip ice cream in Milford, N.H.; and served pancakes at a Father’s Day breakfast in Brunswick, Ohio.
At the breakfast, Mr. Romney introduced two of his sons, Matt and Craig, in a slightly unusual fashion. “I love them,” Mr. Romney said. “I love them like they’re my own. And they are! Craig!”
With that, Craig Romney rescued the microphone from his father.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a profile of Ann Romney — or “ADR” as the advance staffers call her.
The goal was to get beyond the basics about her that we always see in the media — she’s so warm! she’s so nice! she’s Mitt’s rock! she always bakes cookies for the young staffers! And while all of those things may be true, I was curious about why a mother of five; a grandmother of 18; a 63-year-old woman suffering from MS; and the wife of a man whose net worth is roughly $250 would ever agree to suffer through a presidential campaign, let alone prod her husband into running.
I’m including the beginning of my profile (below), but first a fun — and slightly awkward, natch — story about the end of my interview. The Romney campaign had promised me 30 minutes, and that’s exactly what I got. When the interview was over, I tried the old trick of standing up with my tape recorder still running, and trying to walk Ann to the door of the Carlyle Hotel (where we’d had our interview), so I could eek in a few more questions. Ann was too polite to object, but one of her staffers intervened, and we had the following conversation:
Me: I’ll just walk you to the door.
Staffer: We’re going to the ladies room.
Me: Oh great. I’ll just walk you there.
The aide made me feel like such a creepazoid — like the sort of personal who eagerly tries to follow Ann Romney straight into a bathroom stall — that I was so flustered I left the hotel without paying the bill. About ten minutes after I left, I realized my mistake, and sheepishly called the Carlyle back to give them my credit card info over the phone, which they graciously accepted.
And here’s the beginning of my piece:
WASHINGTON — Years before Mitt Romney ever ran in his first political race, his wife, Ann, beat him to public office.
In 1977, Mrs. Romney, at 27, campaigned for town meeting representative in Belmont, Mass., where the young couple lived. She studied up on local issues and went around town talking to residents. She even printed placards — complete with a photograph of herself above a list of platform positions — that she handed out door to door and on street corners.
The big campaign issue “was to move the fire station or not,” Mrs. Romney recalled. “I won.” The Ann Romney on display before voters today is the warm mother of five, the devoted grandmother of 18, and the glowing presence beside her husband on election nights. But that determined campaigner more than three decades earlier provides a glimpse of the woman beyond the gracious helpmeet, someone with a competitive streak who enjoyed her early foray into politics, and who, friends say, has steel behind the smile.
While her biography outlines a seemingly conventional course, one that is more Laura Bush than Michelle Obama, Mrs. Romney casts herself as someone who has defied others’ expectations, not endeavored to fulfill them.
This Times video of Mitt Romney’s body man is totally worth watching, if only for Garrett’s amazing Louis Armstrong impression. (He also imitates certain members of the Romney traveling press corps remarkably well).