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The 'Simba lift' and other stories from the 'embeds' on the campaign trail

From The CNN Political Unit
updated 11:21 AM EDT, Tue June 5, 2012
Reporters cover Newt Gingrich in Florida.
Reporters cover Newt Gingrich in Florida.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Every 4 years, journalists join presidential campaign trail
  • CNN sent a group starting in 2011
  • Four of them share stories here of the campaign trail

(CNN) -- Every four years, hundreds of reporters, photojournalists, producers and other journalists take to the campaign trail to document every move of the men and women who want to become president.

CNN is no different. Starting in 2011 and continuing into 2012, we unleashed our team of embeds -- reporters and producers who are "embedded" with presidential candidates for months at a time and send back the breaking and mundane news from the campaign trail.

One of Mitt Romeny\'s famous \
One of Mitt Romeny's famous "Simba lifts."

Our team of embeds -- including Peter Hamby, Rachel Streifeld, Shannon Travis and Shawna Shepherd -- report for both CNN TV and CNN digital throughout the 2012 campaign. On Tuesday June 5 at noon ET on cnn.com/roundtable, they will join host Wolf Blitzer -- a veteran of several campaigns himself -- for an exclusive live video chat about life on the campaign.

Here are a few of their stories -- in their own words -- from covering the presidential election of 2012:

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Shawna Shepherd

There are very few jobs where your office is a bus, a plane, a press riser in the back of a campaign event, and your competitors are also colleagues.

Campaigns are grueling for candidates, their staff and the journalists who cover them but for all of the advances in technology, nothing replaces seeing a candidate up close day after day interacting with people.

One moment came during a town hall where reporters asked Mitt Romney to explain himself on the rope line after the event:

During a town hall in Cleveland earlier, Romney took a question from a woman who, during the course of her remarks, accused President Obama of treason. Romney ultimately ignored that comment.

On the rope line after the event, I asked him why he didn't acknowledge that part of her question. He said he doesn't "correct all the answers that get asked of me" and added, "obviously I don't agree that he should be tried." The Obama campaign promptly responded to the story I filed about the exchange, which I captured on my iPhone, by criticizing Romney for not standing up to "hateful and over-the-line rhetoric."

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Shannon Travis

Something you might've heard: journalists are a bunch of backstabbing, hyper-competitive, coffee-swilling egotists.

CNN\'s Shannon Travis, center, has spent much of the past 8 months on the road with the campaigns.
CNN's Shannon Travis, center, has spent much of the past 8 months on the road with the campaigns.

I can report that the coffee thing is not true. Many of us prefer Diet Coke.

Life on the campaign trail also fleshes out another truth: Though political reporters do compete to break and cover news, we often stick together -- like a "team of rivals" -- when one or all of us feel set upon. Consider what happened at a February event in Tucson, Arizona:

Reporters, including myself, were covering Rick Santorum. After his speech, we tried to do what we typically do: Film and report on the candidate's interaction with supporters.

As we approached, security men roped off a few of us from getting near the candidate. But, I noticed one cable news producer filming directly in front of Santorum and some photojournalists snapping away.

"You can't let some of us near Santorum but tell the rest of us to stay back!" I snapped at security. "It's either no press -- or all press!"

My colleagues joined the protest. Ultimately, we only succeeded in raising a stink. But we did succeed in sticking together as one media contingent.

It happens a lot.

There was the time last November in Des Moines, Iowa, as sexual harassment allegations dogged Herman Cain, that his bodyguard tried to keep a Washington Post reporter at a distance and from asking a question. The bodyguard asked me if I knew the reporter. Not only did I vouch for him, I told the bodyguard I would not play his game of pick-and-choose the reporter.

Then there was the time Rick Perry apparently hoped to avoid questions about the U.S. Supreme Court's delay of the execution of a Texas death-row inmate. After his tour of a bottling plant in Atlantic, Iowa, I popped a question on the court's delay. Annoyed, Perry briefly and blandly answered, then moved on. My colleague at NBC News would not have it. He followed up with another question on the subject -- a one-two punch that gave all of us a fuller answer to report.

The campaign trail is littered with stories like these: reporters sticking together, working together to file deadlines, even helping each other with broken or missing equipment.

I even once put money in a parking meter for a colleague when I noticed his meter time was up.

-------------------------

Rachel Streitfeld

One part of the job is making sure we get enough "generic" video of the candidate -- it's called b-roll -- that can be used on TV again and again. I picked up a trick occasionally used by still photographers covering the end of an event, as the candidate is shaking hands with supporters: If you see a cute baby, wait nearby for your moment.

This tactic pays off particularly well when covering former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who usually can't resist lifting babies up high in the air. Some of us call "the Simba lift."

And sure enough, at an event in South Carolina, Romney obliged. Holding a smiling youngster who gripped a Romney sign in her two small fists, he lifted her high up in the air. And CNN got the shot.

CNN\'s Rachel Streitfeld got to try on a gold medal.
CNN's Rachel Streitfeld got to try on a gold medal.

Another fun moment was when, after hearing Romney talk for months about his friendship with an inspiring Olympic athlete, we finally met the man -- gold-medalist and speed skater Derek Parra. A small, compact speed demon who switched from rollerblading to speed skating, Parra told the traveling press corps stories about his and Romney's friendship.

And then he let us try on his Olympic gold medal!

-------------------------

Peter Hamby

In the waning days of the Iowa caucus campaign, I was trailing Texas Gov. Rick Perry around the state as he scraped for a top three finish in hopes of boosting his faltering campaign.

A longtime runner who was hobbled by back surgery the previous summer, Perry would often wake early in those frigid December mornings and hit the treadmill in whatever hotel chain the campaign and its traveling press corps were in.

I'd sometimes encounter Perry during my own workouts; you'd know he was in the fitness center if a pair of Texas State Troopers was standing guard outside.

I watched him every now and then on the treadmill. He liked to watch SportsCenter. He wore Brooks running shoes. I noticed, enviously, that he usually kept a faster pace and ran for longer times than I did.

But I also saw that he had more energy on the campaign trail in the final days of the Iowa sprint than he did when he first embarked on his presidential bid in August. His staff knew it, too. He was sharper. He was a better debater. It was because he was jogging pretty much every day, something he was prevented from doing in previous months because he was lethargic and on painkillers.

I later spun this morning workout routine of ours into a story about Perry's late burst of energy, and how his campaign might have worked out a little differently had be been in top physical condition during those damaging fall debates.

Perry, it turned out, enjoyed the story and our shared interest in running. And after his campaign ended, whenever I saw him at political events around the country he would invite me to go jogging with him Austin.

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