Elizabeth Edwards Stops at Davenport Democratic Headquarters in Poorly-Planned Last-Minute Campaign Stop

(*This article originally ran on www.blogforiowa.com in 2004, when I covered that presidential election for that blog. I am reprinting it at this time because news reports have said that Elizabeth Edwards is near death from terminal liver cancer. To see a newer take on my memories, go to www.AssociatedContent.com and read what I have written about my own father’s death from liver cancer, coupled with memories of this campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa, the day before the 2004 Presidential election. The day after that election, the couple announced that Elizabeth Edwards was suffering from breast cancer and, of course, we all know “the rest of the story.”

R.I.P., Elizabeth.

By Connie Wilson

The last stop.

Elizabeth Edwards is to “rally” the volunteers in Davenport at Democratic headquarters at 1416 West 16th Street in Davenport the night before the most important election of my lifetime. Tempers are short. Nerves are frayed. Tension is high. These sentiments are probably shared by the candidates and their families. Lots of out-of-towners are here to work on election day, which is only hours away now. 

The “invitation” from Kerry headquarters in Des Moines to this event said, “Elizabeth Edwards will thank volunteers for building a surge of momentum for Kerry leading to Election Day.” I had visions of cup-cakes, pizza and beverages for hard-working volunteers. Guess again.

 I knew that the Democratic headquarters in Davenport was nearly unfindable. It has to be possibly the worst location for a Democratic headquarters in the nation. The Chicago volunteer I talked to on the phone, as I sought directions, agreed with me. I lived in Davenport for a year, and I could not find it, from Locust Street, during two previous daylight excursions. The Chicago native on the phone did tell me one thing that helped: “It’s an old school.”  Usually, when you call the place, trying to get directions, you get an answering machine that is full. Why? The Chicago volunteer said, “I don’t even know how you got through.” Me, either.

I remember the very accessible Howard Dean headquarters across from the Kahl Building fondly after seeing this place. And even the first Kerry headquarters, next to Major Art & Hobby was, at least, findable…. although not very large.

Twice before, I had tried to find the Democratic headquarters at 1416 West 16th Street. Not easy. Tonight, Monday, November 1, 2004, it is dark, rainy and cold. As the Red Baron (in the Snoopy comic strip) would say, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Still, I felt I should set off on my last adventure. I had high hopes that Elizabeth Edwards would sign the front-page photo of the daughter from the Sunday, October 24th, Moline, Daily Dispatch. I especially hoped this, inasmuch as a Daily Dispatch reader from Geneseo had written a Letter to the Editor that appeared in Sunday, October 31’s paper, attacking all the students in the article, calling them all “dumb.”

I had dragged two copies of the front-page story to the last John Edwards rally at North High School in Davenport. Someone named Lisa, a Connecticut native here working for Kerry, offered to take the newspapers and try to see if she could get one of them autographed for my daughter and returned to me. I only had three. I gave her two. The papers disappeared, never to be seen again. Now I am down to one, which I have brought.

Tonight, as I arrive at the old schoolhouse and park a block and a half-away, walking towards the old school on the hill in a light downpour, it is obvious that having any opportunity to meet or greet Elizabeth Edwards is not going to be easy. The school does not lend itself to any sort of large group gathering. It is a long narrow corridor with small rooms off the corridor. (Think Catholic schools of old….rabbit warren….maze).

 Although, at one point, I caught a glimpse of Elizabeth Edwards, the Secret Service and local police are keeping everyone at bay. It does not appear that it is that “crowded,” but there are no risers, no room in which to gather. As a site for something like this, the place is, quite simply, a disaster. (“It was a dark and rainy night.”)

I did not bring my Press Pass credentials. I did not think this was a “formal” Press opportunity. I was wrong. The Channel 4, 6, and 8 people are taken back, separately, one at a time, as are a couple of print people.

I ask “Matt,” the advance man, if I can take ONE photo of Mrs. Edwards, for www.blogforiowa.com. He nervously ignores me, not even bothering to answer, busily taking a variety of other reporter types through the hallway, past me.

I ask again. And again. I have seen this guy at the last three to four rallies.  I know him on sight, now, as he does me. Perhaps he views me as a pest, at this point. I am not “important” enough. I am sure that Mrs. Edwards is “busy,” but I am also sure that this sort of treatment is what one would expect of the Republicans, not the Democrats. It is intrinsically unfair and “elitist,” and, also, out of touch with the times, since “blogs” are the wave of the future, according to a recent “New York Times” Sunday article.

My advanced degrees are in journalism and English. I have written for five papers over the span of 49 years. Why or how am I “less important” or “less skilled” than those being given access, while I am being told to “keep the aisle clear” and “make sure that this door closes”?

The obvious answer is “readership” or circulation, but, in some ways, OUR readership, at this point in time, is more important, as we are the Democratic “loyalists” that have helped bring this campaign this far, as Paul Eiger so eloquently put it in an e-mail I recently received. We may have started out in Howard Dean’s camp, (and we still believe in Howard Dean), but we have swallowed our pride and worked hard to help this ticket. None of that matters this night. (*Note: the less obvious answer was that Elizabeth Edwards was a very sick woman and had just found that out.)

Finally, desperately, I take pictures of the other people with me  who are standing in the hall without a prayer of laying eyes on Elizabeth Edwards, let alone being “thanked” or “greeted.” (“All of you keep this aisle open. Everyone away from the door. One line, only, please. Make sure that we can open that door.”).  I feel like I’m back at the Cheney rally on Saturday night, when they wouldn’t let us leave the building!

One of these no-luck individuals (pictured) is Samantha Pieczynski, of Davenport. I tell Samantha that I am going to label her smiling photo  as “Mrs. Edwards.” We laugh.

The other gentleman, Norm Bower by name, also of Davenport, asks if I want a quote. “Sure,” I say. His quote: “It is of paramount importance that George W. Bush not be re-elected so that he not be allowed to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court of the Land.” Good quote, Norm.

A young woman in corn rows (obviously an out-of-towner working for the campaign) passes, acting like she feels she is very important (they often do). I ask her if I can get a picture of Mrs. Edwards now. (All other press people have pretty much had their shot …pun intended…, so it would seem that perhaps, now, it is “my turn.” But no 

The oh-so-important volunteer says, airily, “Oh, she’s already left the building.” As soon as this campaign worker descends the staircase and is out of hearing range, the young man next to me says, “She’s not out of the building .She’s RIGHT THERE!” And he gestures towards a classroom or cubbyhole less than 10 feet from where we are all mashed against “the door that must be able to be opened and closed.” In other words, we have just been told an outright lie.

I finally see the writing on the wall. We are never going to get so much as a look at Elizabeth Edwards. We can all forget about the sentiment where it said, “Elizabeth Edwards will rally volunteers .. thank local supporters…Mrs. Edwards will greet local volunteers and speak about the importance of getting out the vote on Election Day.” (Ha!)

None of this is Elizabeth Edward’s fault, of course, but this is the least-well-planned event on the campaign trail, so far. As I leave, I see the corn-rowed worker, and I say, sarcastically, “Thanks for all your help.” She looks at me, puzzled. I add, “I didn’t think that the Democrats would take up where the Republicans left off , blatantly lying to us, quite so quickly.” She scurries for cover. I am angry.

Matt sees this. I have not been treated this poorly at any time during the past 9 months. Matt says, “Why don’t you go see Lisa?” He sees that I am mad enough to tear up, which I am.

Lisa is, apparently, the “smoother-over” person. At this point, I haven’t put a face with the name. It doesn’t really work, Matt. I am still pissed. I gave up my college teaching job to work long and hard as a volunteer for 9 months, only to be shoved aside as “not important enough” for ONE photo. And I have been lied to, both in the same night. I have already voted for Kerry/Edwards, but the “driving to the polls” duties I signed up for, months ago, seem like adding insult to injury, right about now.

Naively, I think that Lisa might be someone who can still assist me in getting  a picture of Mrs. Edwards. Or, maybe Lisa has one on HER digital  camera that she can send me?  Possibly she can help me get that elusive Edwards autograph, an autograph of the front-page picture of the daughter holding the “Hot Chicks Dig Edwards” button. I already lost two copies of these papers at the LAST Edwards appearance (North High School) when I gave it to a campaign worker

. When I find Lisa, I realize that SHE is the woman I gave the two Dispatch front pages to at Davenport North High School, who was “going to try to get it to the candidate”.  Obviously, that didn’t happen; so much for THAT plan!

I have also brought my book Both Sides Now, as a gift, for Elizabeth Edwards. I leave it with Lisa.  I might as well. It is obvious that I am never going to get within 100 yards of the woman. She is probably already speeding down the highway. This entire “event” has been so poorly-organized, planned in a poor location, and, as far as I am concerned, conducted very unfairly. I see a Happy Joe’s. I think, “Ice cream. That’s what I need. Ice cream.”
People like Linda Thieman (who has been working hard, 24/7, for 9 months, without a day off, 90 hou

rs a week, free and gratis, to put this blog together and keep it updated) and me, for that matter….who gave up her fall semester of college teaching to pursue the campaign with a vengeance (both of us on our own dime)…matter as much as Channel 4, 6, 8 or the “regular” newspaper(s). Have these people not read the articles (New York Times, most recently) that trumpet that “blogs” are the newspapers of the future? Are we not getting like 200,000 “hits” a month. Are we not telling it like it is, when mainstream media often has not? Is Iowa not an important “swing” state? I think we all know the answers to these questions.

But, Linda, tonight, www.blogforiowa.com is treated as a second-class citizen. As am I. And I am  upset about it.

Tonight, rather than being “thanked” or “rallied,” I leave almost in tears, feeling very, very disappointed in the entire evening. I am just glad that I didn’t make my daughter leave her homework to seek the long-sought-after elusive autograph of any member of the Edwards family on the front-page photo. Maybe I can get the cute kids, Jack or Mary Claire, (I think her name is)…the smallest Edwards children….to scribble something on this paper. You think? [Not likely, either, I’m thinking].

My entire evening is ruined. All the good vibe(s) of the previous ten rallies or so are crashing and burning..  I am NOT a happy camper. I probably feel about like Ralph Nader did when his poster fell down as he was speaking, in Ames. Disappointed. Dejected. Sad. Unfairly put upon.  It is good that, quoting the refrain in “Apocalypse Now,” “this is the end.”

It sure is.