Clinton's campaign trip is a miracle of logistics

July 22, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- Mort Engelberg has to be a little crazy. How else to explain why the well-paid producer of such movies as "The Big Easy" would volunteer to produce Bill Clinton's heartland bus tour?

It's a logistical nightmare: coordinating the movement of a 275-person bus caravan as it rolls, campaign stop by campaign stop, from New York to St. Louis, where the trip ends today.

But Mr. Engelberg, a veteran of several presidential campaigns, says he finds it "therapeutic" to get away from movies every few years.

He and a Clinton aide, Bev Lindsey, began putting together the bus trip about six to eight weeks ago. Thinking ahead to the end of the Democratic National Convention last Thursday, the campaign wanted to "do something different from the old notion of getting on a plane and going to tarmacs and so on."

So, last Friday, eight buses, 10 to 12 Secret Service vehicles, three passenger vans and a station wagon left Manhattan in what campaign aides soon dubbed "Bill & Al's First Adventure."

Police escorted them, as they have the entire way.

It's an impressive sight. Even motorists who are forced to wait while the caravan passes wave.

But there have been problems, too. More than 150 newspeople piled into five of the buses in New York, overwhelming the campaign staff.

Luggage didn't arrive on time. Hotel reservations were botched. And schedules, released each morning, became useless by noon, as the candidates spoke too long or made unannounced stops.

"I just think it's a miracle we get through every day," Mr. Engelberg says.

But the system has improved. Passengers noticed the difference the other day when, instead of white bread sandwiches, they received box lunches of barbecued ribs.

And reporters were pleasantly surprised to find banks of telephones awaiting their use at a farm in Utica, Ohio, where Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore were scheduled to speak.

Mr. Engelberg's genius has been in choreographing the events -- often three or four a day -- attended by the candidates.

In picking sites, Mr. Engelberg says, the campaign seeks the "best place to go in terms of message" and forums where the candidates "would meet a lot of people."

Hence, to make Mr. Clinton seem a regular guy, the campaign brought him to a truck stop in Pennsylvania, where he spoke with truckers. To emphasize his interest in agriculture, he was taken to a farm.

Yesterday, he spoke to participants in an education and employment program at a Louisville, Ky., school and toured an Evansville, Ind., vocational college.

But just as it is Mr. Engelberg's job to make sure there's a crowd, he takes pains to deny that the campaign had anything to do with it. The idea is to make perfect planning seem like spontaneous demonstrations of popular support for the Clinton-Gore ticket.

When the caravan made what was supposed to have been a brief stop at a rest area in Indiana yesterday, a small crowd awaited them -- obviously organized in advance. Yet Mr. Gore expressed amazement, as he has done at other such stops, that people came to see them.

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