The massive stage, with its two dozen American flags waving in the breeze, two fat slabs of bulletproof glass and the sun-splashed Chicago skyline in the distance, is impressive. The gigantic white tents full of thousands of journalists jabbering in hundreds of languages and the miles of fencing and intense security are kind of intimidating. The infectious excitement of the dozens of teens and college kids lined up since daybreak for their chance to attend the rally is inspiring.
But nothing I've seen so far today on the site of Senator Barack Obama's election-night speech compares to the traveling media spaceship known as the CNN Election Express.
Imagine, if you will, a fully tricked-out high-definition TV studio. Then put it on wheels and schlep it around the country for 18 months and 60,000 miles, including more than 2,300 miles in Ohio alone. This afternoon Sway bumped into CNN anchor Don Lemon, who graciously invited us into the bus for a tour.
Once inside, we peeped CNN political reporter Jessica Yellin getting some inside scoop on her phone and ran into Josh Rubin, the lead producer on the Express, who gave us the "Cribs" tour of his cramped, high-tech home away from home. Hitting a button to make a giant HD screen drop down from the ceiling — it was tuned to MTV, of course — Rubin pointed out the 10 other high-def screens along the left side of the bus, tuned to CNN, as well as its competitors. "Everything you can do in one of our bureaus you can do right here on our election bus," said Rubin. "I would rather be here than just about anywhere else."
He explained that the 45-foot motor coach and mobile bureau has hosted interviews with just about every major candidate for the presidency in this election, from Senators John McCain, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton to Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards. Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin hasn't been there yet, because the bus hasn't made it up to Alaska.
In addition having a James Bond-like kitchen sink tucked into a panel on the outside of the bus, Rubin and his three full-time cohorts can talk to any CNN bureau in the world while rolling down the highway in their "bureau in a box." At some point, Lemon pulled the mike away from Rubin during a bit about patch panels and teased him for his detailed tour. Rubin laughed, "This is my home, man."
It's a good thing he likes the place. No matter who wins tonight, Rubin said he's got another two months on the Express, covering the transition and then the inauguration.
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