Ari Shapiro: My Year With Mitt

Ari Shapiro / As Told to Whitney Spaner
For the past year, NPR's White House correspondent Ari Shapiro has been part of the press corps on the campaign trail with GOP candidate Mitt Romney. The day after Obama was re-elected, we called Shapiro up in Boston, the last stop of Romney's campaign, to hear about what life was like on the road with the Romney-Ryan camp.

Being on the campaign trail for a year, you get to see the real America. And when I say "real America," I don't mean it in the way Sarah Palin means it -- with political valiance. The issues in Colorado are completely different from the ones in Ohio and the people in Florida are not the same as the people in New Hampshire. Going from one place to the other in one day gave me a sense of this country that I've never had before.

I joked about the amount of time we spent in Ohio. One standout image in my mind was in Defiance, Ohio, toward the end of the campaign. Jan Crawford from CBS is a country music fan and the lead singer of Alabama was performing. Jan was near the front of the stage and we got word to him that it was her birthday. He called her up on stage in front of literally over 10,000 people and sang "Happy Birthday" to her. All the reporters were standing up there on a platform with the TV cameras singing along. I'm not sad that the campaign is over, but at that moment, looking around at these people who I have spent every waking minute with for the last year, I felt a bit of nostalgia. I remember thinking, "I'm never going to be with all of these people in one place again."

Both Ann and Mitt Romney had little interaction with the press, for different reasons. Mitt had a problem with gaffes, and I think that he felt that every time he talked to the press he was setting himself up for potential disaster. I can count on one hand the number of times that he hung out with the press and even then it was only after intense begging and pleading from the reporters. At the beginning, when they were campaigning in New Hampshire, there were not many reporters following them around, and it was clear Ann really liked the press. I think she felt parental toward us. She's never had any daughters and there were a lot of young women reporters and producers on the bus, who I think she felt sort of motherly toward. Over time, as she became more unhappy with the way the press was treating her husband, she was less friendly. It wasn't that she was openly hostile toward us, it's just that she didn't come back a lot to see us. It must be so hard to see your husband put through the ringer, maybe even harder for her than it was for him.

A few weeks after the convention they unveiled the big Romney-Ryan plane. When the press got on the plane, we saw all of these glossy campaign photos of Romney on the walls. We thought to ourselves, "Hang on, we have to live here too," and so one of the network TV producers, Bonney Kapp, printed out a bunch of photographs of all of us on the campaign trail. So there was a dividing line where the front half of the plane had all these really classy photos of Romney and Paul Ryan and the back half of the plane had all of these snapshots of us, the Romney Ramblers, in everything from freezing winter winds to [tropical] Puerto Rico.

There were times when we got really slap happy. It would be the end of an 18-hour day and we'd be waiting on the airport tarmac for our luggage before we could go to the hotel, sleep for three hours and go again. We would hear his speech so many times, we'd hear every verbal tic, every nuance, and we could speak along with the campaign videos. Every rally begins and ends with the Kid Rock song "Born Free," and at one point I suggested that we should make a drinking game where each person has to say the next word in the lyrics to "Born Free" and if you forget a word you have to do a shot. I believe that 20 years from now if I hear the song "Born Free," I'm going to have flashbacks. I think without straying into any political territory I can safely say that I was not then and am not now a Kid Rock fan. Nothing about Romney's politics or policies, that's just my taste in music.

During the primaries, Romney campaigned in Reno and we stayed in a hotel where Ron Paul was having a rally. I went to check it out because I'd never seen a Ron Paul rally. Girls from the Bunny Ranch, which I guess is a brothel in Nevada, were there and I interviewed this -- what do you call them, a lady of the night? She said all the girls at the Bunny Ranch are Republican and that they're all "pimpin' for Paul." There were just so many moments like that where I thought, "I can't believe I am here right now experiencing this."

It was amazing to see the rallies grow in size over the year. I can remember when there would be 50 people at a rally and that was the norm, and then the crowd grew to 10, 20 even 30,000 people. Towards the end Romney was having rallies in big airport hangars. The plane would pull up to the hangar and we would run in, listen to him give the speech and then we'd get back on the plane. I mean, if we had gotten frequent flyer miles for the Romney plane I would be triple platinum, or whatever.

Election night was really sad. As results came in, people started leaving the victory rally, which is what they call it whether you win or lose. By the time Romney came out to speak, the room was half empty. The staffers on this campaign have put in as much blood, sweat and tears -- if not more -- as any of the reporters, but they actually had something on the line. All of the reporters still have jobs, and now none of the staffers do. These were people that we had become friends with over the year, and that doesn't mean that we were rooting for their guy to win, but it was sad that the crowd didn't even stick around to see Romney's speech. Many of the staffers were more disappointed than they were surprised, but it was still hard to see them have such a rough night.

[The next day] I checked into a hotel [in Boston], and they asked if I'd like a glass of champagne. It was like 1 p.m. and I was alone, so normally I'd say no, but after not only the night that I had, but the year that I had, I was like, "Yes, I will have a glass of champagne."

Photographs by Ari Shapiro

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