NEWS ANALYSIS: On the campaign trail with Clinton

The man behind public affairs agency Morgan Allen Moore reports on the ultimate ‘eye of the storm’ PR task – handling foreign media following Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

Wednesday 26 December, 3.10 pm
Wheels down, Washington DC. I've just arrived in the US to work on my third Democratic presidential election campaign. Was planning to sit out the early stages of this one but a call from Hillary Clinton's campaign asking me to come over and join her team for the New Hampshire primary re-kindled my passion for US politics. So I head for New Hampshire via DC and New York.

There are now 6.5 million US citizens living abroad. This is approximately two million more than when I worked on the Gore campaign in 2000. If they all lived in one place they would make the 17th biggest state in the US. In this year's election they will vote in record numbers. The major part of my job will be message delivery to them via the foreign press.

Media scrum: Morgan had to organise photo opportunities for the foreign reportersThe first thing you notice on arriving in New Hampshire is the cold: -15 degrees the day I arrived. The second thing is what we call ‘The Vis' - on every crossroad along every main street hundreds of supporters hold up their candidate's signage.

In Manchester where Hillary Clinton (we call her HRC and her husband WJC) had her HQ the crossroads are dominated by our supporters. The young people braving the cold to wave signs at passing motorists create a real atmosphere in the town, especially when passing cars frequently hoot away in support.

When I arrive the foreign press pack is still in Iowa so I have time to prepare for the onslaught that experience has taught me will come once the caucus is over. So it's straight online to see what the press around the world are saying about my candidate. It's not good.

With the exception of Germany, they all app­ear to be on the same Obama love train as the US media. I knew HRC wasn't the most popular politician in US politics but I have to admit surprise at the intensity of the hostility that was being directed at her by the press. So, I settle down to the early morning, and late night, team briefings, get the foreign media desk established and wait.

Friday 4 January
Obama has won in Iowa, a surprise to some but not to most of us. Iowa was his backyard and HRC had never been strong there. That said, his margin of victory was very worrying. The foreign press start arriving in New Hampshire.

Today a phenomenon I've only ever experienced in the US begins in earnest - the feast of opinion pollsters.

We have pollsters in the UK but in the US anyone who can think up a catchy acronym can become a pollster. Every hour of every day out comes an online poll - CKFU says we're ten points up at 11am, FKCU says we're 12 points down at 2pm. UCKF says young folk love her in the morning and CKUF tells us they hate her in the afternoon. How do they manage this? Easy, it's all about sample size.

In the US a poll of 300, or sometimes less, in a state the size of New Hampshire is accepted by the media. In the UK such a low sample would be laughed out of the press room. I spend some time each day exp­laining to the foreign press that these polls can be very unreliable. Unfortunately, many still believe these snapshots.

Family affair: Hillary Clinton at her New Hampshire HQ with her biggest supporterBlogging is another phenomenon. In the US, when there's a campaign on there's a blog for just about everything. Most of them are extreme, very right-wing and written by the kind of people you wouldn't want sitting next to you on the bus.

But considering they are run by amateurs and weirdos they have a totally lopsided influence over the US mainstream press, who lift stories from their websites on almost a daily basis - HSTI blog said today that

HRC is an alien who eats bab­ies while HSIT blog reports evidence that she has been impregnated with the frozen sperm of JFK and will be converting to Catholicism as soon as she becomes President. Nonsense on a huge scale, but we have to keep an eye on some of it just in case SHTI TV Japan decides there's a good story there.

Tuesday 8 January - Primary Day
First job of the day is agreeing with HRC's press secretary which foreign journalists will be given credentials for tonight's event. I'm given a dozen print slots in the file room, three camera spots on the riser and three in front of the press bike rack. So, the BBC and GMTV get two of the prime spots and I arrange a pool camera so the 19 networks I know won't get acc­ess can feed off it. The bike rack space goes to the French, German and Dutch networks.

Next job is to establish which foreign networks have US affiliates and which are prepared to let them have ten minutes of riser time. Once that's done it's over to the venue. All equipment has to be set by 5pm for the security sweep so the broadcasters are in place early. The print media enter up until 7pm and we wait for the polls to close at 8pm.

The polls are showing Obama to win by ten points. On the TV banks his campaign is playing Stevie Wonder's Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Our internals show the result is going to be a lot closer than that. At 8.30pm the networks put up the first returns. HRC is up by eight points.

There's surprise in the filling room. At 8.45pm, 20 per cent of the vote is in and HRC is still up by six points. And so the night goes on. The more votes that come in, the further HRC moves into the lead until the networks call it for her, Obama makes the concession speech and it's over - we've won.

The audience explodes with chants of Hillary, Hillary. The media, well those who believed the polls, look as if they'd rather be somewhere else. HRC comes out to rapturous greetings from her supporters. As it did in '92, New Hampshire has put a Clinton back in the race.

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