For political wonks, and political operatives -- the world of the campaign was divided into two distinct realms. A public realm and a private one. The day-to-day events of the campaign, captured by traveling press, made up the narrative of the candidate. But inside, there were a handful of men and women who operate 'inside the bubble', providing a private world of donors, private meetings, and off the record conversations. The Bubble was the hermetically-sealed team that surrounds the candidate, a small and loyal group of political advisors, press handlers, and a body man.
Obama's bubble has been surprisingly consistent. Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod, and David Plouffe are all insiders. Stephanie Cutter, who ran the Kerry Bubble in 2008, is now inside team Obama. Marvin Nicholson, Kerry's bodyman -- is now standing just off camera as Obama works the rope line at political events.
But from my time with the Bubble, as a documentary maker filming "Inside The Bubble" during the final months of the John Kerry campaign -- it's clear that some things have changed profoundly.
First though, let me share what life is like these final days on a presidential campaign.
The schedule is relentless. From early morning till late night, a blur of airplanes, motorcades, hotels and dry-cleaning. You put your clothes out at night. The next morning your shirt and suit are clean. But where are you? What room? What hotel? What state? It's a blur. The candidate is delivering the same stump speech, the same laugh lines, the same political barbs all day long. From one massive crowd to another. With local electeds swapped in and out, with the celebrity or rock star joining for a few appearances. Each event includes a backstage photo op with some local donors or political operatives, as well as a 'rope line' of fans reaching out for a handshake or an autograph. The bodyman is never far out of reach, with a bag of sharpies and a bottle of Purell. Whether you're the candidate or the incumbent, you always use your own pen. Germs on the campaign trail could mean losing a day to a cold or flu, and that can't happen. Every day, every hour, every minute counts.
The candidate is insulated -- each encounter, each photograph, each conversation planned by a team of advance men and women whose job, and candidate, depend on flawless image management. When candidate Kerry stopped by to kick the ball with a local soccer team, two busloads of 'traveling press' were there to record the 'impromptu' encounter. The traveling press is part of the dynamic as well. They've heard the stump speech a million times. They're bored of it. Even if the candidate delivers it with a fresh originality at every campaign stop, the traveling press knows it's all canned and scripted. Changes in the stump speech are written late at night, reviewed by political operatives into the early morning hours, and often end up in the teleprompter of the candidate just moments before they burst on stage. Words that must be original, fresh, and authentic -- but often being seen for the first time as the prompter rolls.
The media has turned the election process into a public performance art, with the winning candidate having a marathoner's store of reserved energy and a distance runner's stamina.
The two key measures of a winner: charm and endurance.
But there's one thing that's changed dramatically since John Kerry ran in 2008. The ubiquity and the speed of media distribution. It used to be that local events remained local, and that it would take a major blunder before national media would pick up a thread and make it into a major issue. But now everyone on the campaign trail has a cell phone with a video camera, and every stump speech, every local BBQ visit, every rope line, is captured and broadcast around the world -- via social media.
Trying the keep the Bubble private, and off the record is virtually impossible. The 24/7 reconnaissance of blogs, tweets, and YouTube changes everything.
Exhaustion means mistakes will happen. But now, one false grimace, one yawn or itch, or eye-roll could turn the election. Just look at Mitt Romney's 47 percent comment, said in a closed-door meeting among friends and supporters. No press there. But someone on the wait staff had a phone, and set it down to record. Did Romney mean to brush off veterans, or senior citizens? No, of course not. But he did mean what he said, much has he's tried to walk back those comments. Big money donors want to hear that the candidate supports their concerns. But what plays in a closed room can mean disaster when played on a national stage.
Social media basically puts each and every voter inside the bubble. Crowdsourced political coverage means scrutiny of every moment of every day on the campaign trail. It means that candidates need to be ready to have their every move under surveillance, their every utterance captured and re-broadcast.
And strangely, it means that candidates aren't as insulated from the wider world as they once were. The nature of Twitter and Facebook works both ways, forcing campaigns to listen to smaller voices and less savvy voters. A blogger with a powerful perspective can find their voice making its way inside the bubble too.
So, as the marathon reaches its final days -- the pace and schedule is no less relentless than it was I the past. But the impervious nature of the bubble is changing -- as social media turns a closed system into an open and participatory democracy. How that impacts things is anybody's guess.