Covering the Campaign from Both Sides

At the end of the third presidential debate in Arizona last week, President Bush described a painting of mountains in West Texas that hangs in the Oval Office. He quoted the artist as saying he and his wife live on "the east side of the mountains, the sunrise side, not the sunset side." Mr. Bush was making a point about optimism. But sunrise is more than a metaphor for this president. I thought about that a couple of days later when my alarm clock rang at 5 a.m.

For much of the last six months, I've been following John Kerry's campaign around the country, while NPR's Don Gonyea, White House correspondent, has been tracking the president. After Arizona, our editors decided we should flip-flop for a few days. Don followed Kerry to Nevada, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio. I joined the president's caravan, which was covering much of the same ground. The idea was to give each of us a better idea of the differences between the two campaigns. Some of those differences are as plain as night and day.

Mr. Bush is famously early to bed. The day after the last debate, reporters following the president were tucked into our Oregon hotel by 8 p.m., only to rise before dawn the next morning for a three-hour flight to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Kerry, a night owl, usually does the opposite, traveling late into the evening to get to the place he'll campaign the following day. A typical campaign schedule for Kerry includes a dinnertime rally in Dayton, Ohio, followed by a 90-minute flight to Iowa, where he'll finally pull up to his hotel shortly before midnight. Switching between the campaigns is likely to leave one with a case of political jet lag.

The candidates aren't the only ones whose clocks are wound differently. Their supporters also seem worlds apart in the ideas that make them tick. Shortly before Mr. Bush appeared at a rally in Sunrise, Fla., over the weekend, one of his warm-up speakers talked about watching a TV interview with one of the rock stars currently touring and singing for the president's defeat. The rock star said he was working against Mr. Bush because the president starts every decision with the assumption that the United States is better and more righteous than every other country. "Hello?" said the warm-up speaker, as the audience roared. Even the name Halliburton doesn't trigger such a strong and unified response from Kerry's followers.

In general, Mr. Bush's rallies are more intense and more passionate than Kerry's. When the president says, "I tell you what I'm gonna do, and I keep my word," the crowd cheers wildly. When he says, "There's a name for John Kerry's philosophy: It's called liberalism," supporters boo with lusty abandon. Even when the president admits to sometimes mangling the English language, his followers chuckle appreciatively. They love him, no matter how he talks.

John Kerry's followers like him, too, of course. But they're quick to correct him when he gets something wrong, as they did last week with the Wisconsin pronunciation of "brat(wurst)."

When I noted these differences in a radio story, some listeners wrote in to complain. They thought I was implying that the unquestioning loyalty of the Bush supporters is a sign of strength. It might be. The crowds at Bush rallies do seem to share the candidate's own certainty that they're right. But as Kerry observed in their first debate, "you can be certain and be wrong."

Followers of both candidates get one vote apiece, no matter how loudly they cheer. And despite the old line about voting early and often, that one-vote rule holds, no matter how early you get up in the morning.

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