First of all I want to thank Jim Johnson for making today happen. Without his help I wouldn’t have been able to have the experience of being a member of the press corps for Sen. John McCain’s visit to Panama City August 1st. When I checked my email this morning Jim had sent me a copy of the press logistics summary. I had to be at the airport by 2:00 to be checked out by the Secret Service before the Senator’s plane arrived.
After getting my credentials and passing security we were led out to the tarmac by Gate 3 where a flatbed trailer was set up. There were 4 of us in the local media pool there and we were all pretty excited because none of us had covered a Presidential candidate before. I was there for good pictures but I had camera issues, unfortunately. The delegation of local community leaders including State Reps. Jimmy Patronis and Marti Coley and GOP State Committeewoman Melissa Hagan waited on the tarmac with us when Straight Talk Air landed around 2:20 p.m.
The Senator and his wife were accompanied by Governor Crist and his fiancee Carol Rome. After greeting the local delegation Gov. Crist and Ms. Rome joined the Senator and his wife on the Straight Talk Express. The motorcade of 12 SUVs followed them and the press bus to the press conference at the Bay Point Marriott scheduled. By 2:30 the entourage was loaded up and moved out very efficently by the Secret Service, who do their job very well. I was amazed by the level of precision.
I followed the motorcade to the press conference and walked with them into the Marriott but when I moved toward the part of the hotel where it was being held I was informed by the Secret Service that I just missed the window to be swept and I would not be allowed to enter. I accepted my fate and went home to get my other camera. Lesson learned. I wanted to ask Sen. McCain one question. Either “If there was one government program that you could eliminate what would it be?” or “If there was one law you could repeal, what would it be?”. Next time I would go straight to the press conference instead.
After getting my other camera I drove to where the shuttle was expected to arrive. I decided to go ahead and drive to the Marina downtown where the event was being held so I could get through security in time. I parked about 4 blocks away and got another set of press credentials before going through security again. This time it was TSA running the checkpoints. I took my seat with the other local press on an elevated platform directly facing the stage. It was filling up around 5 p.m. with most of the seats provided being occupied. By 5:30 the overcast sky began to clear up but it remained cloudy for the most part throughout the concert. The bus carrying the national media arrived about 5:40 p.m. along with more Secret Service. Security was tight, as one would imagine.
After the campaign workers started passing out signs, they called for people to come up front and many made the move to get toward the front. I was positioned next to the pool cameras and had a great view of everything. Soon after 6 p.m. John Rich took the stage. He has written 36 Top 40 singles for himself and other country musicians, and he has been nominated for 14 Grammy awards. He played some of his hit songs including “Lost in this moment”, “I Walk The Line” by Johnny Cash and before Sen. McCain took the stage. He spoke about his own conservative beliefs and introduced his new song “Raising McCain” as the Straight Talk Express arrived.
The Senator walked out of the bus to a enthusiastic crowd. If you think there is an “enthusiasm gap” among Republicans, there was certainly plenty of it at this event. The Senator introduced his wife and Governor Crist to the crowd. The response to the Governor was mixed. McCain spoke briefly, first asking veterans to raise their hand. I raised mine, looked around and saw a lot of hands up. After speaking they all spent time shaking hands with the crowd before leaving for the next destination.
I spotted two Republican friends of mine leaving the event, so I decided to ask them their impressions of the day. Carol Benson said that the concert was really good and that she was enthusiastic to see Sen McCain but she was disappointed that his speech only lasted 30 seconds. She was looking forward to hearing more from him. Ken Ford left work early to be at the rally for the Senator. He said it was a good photo opportunity and the concert showed that there is a united front against Obama in Panama City. I did happen to notice 10 protesters with signs, but they were not disruptive at all. I think I got some good pictures but I still need to have them processed, and I will post them when I do.
This was an amazing experience for me, and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I was the editor-in-chief for my high school newspaper, so I have always had an interest in the media and what they do, and to be able to do this was a dream come true. I had a good time and learned a lot today. Overall I believe the event was a success, and with less than 100 days to go, I feel that this visit will energize the Republican base and I am more sure after today that Sen. McCain will carry Bay County.