On Saturday, the NY Times had an interesting story comparing the differences between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain on the rope line at campaign events. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to be up at the front at a rally and been one of the brave souls who jostles for the opportunity to shake the candidate’s hand or try and get a picture taken with the candidate, you know the excitement of moment when you the candidate connects with you. Or the dissapointment of being passed by for the person next to you.
It’s impossible for candidates to connect with every person on the rope line, but some candidates are more intune with the importance of making the effort, as the NY Times reports:
You can learn a lot about the state of a campaign from its rope lines, and about the style of the person running. There is a giddy celebrity vibe on the Obama rope lines, with the candidate darting along. He is less of a hugger or a hand-shaker than he is a finger-pincher, spreading memories in half-second increments — about 20 voter touches per 30 seconds, on average. He rarely stops for autographs (his aides collect items and Mr. Obama later signs them for the aides to return).
Mrs. Clinton lingers, chats and signs her first name — on a Krispy Kreme box, construction gloves and a “Mrs. President” Girl Scout patch (one night alone in Kentucky last week). Her supporters cling to her and urge her not to quit.
Mr. McCain invites respectful distance. It is rare to see people lunging over barriers for him, nor will he reach back: his war injuries make it difficult for him to extend his arms. He moves in close, making earnest eye contact while shaking hands. His approach is dutiful, like a Boy Scout mowing a lawn.
It’s an important aspect of a campaign, I feel for supporters who venture out to campaign rallies to have that opportunity to connect with the candidate, even ever so briefly. In ’04 working for the Kerry campaign, I had many opportunities to watch Kerry connect on the rope line. He would, as Clinton does, linger, chat and pose for pictures with supporters. Sometimes much to the chagrin of his staff who were waiting the in the wings to whisk him off to the next event.
Unlike Clinton, Obama “is at best lukewarm to rope lines, his aides say, but he has learned to soldier through them.” Explaining perhaps, a bit of the elitist meme that seems to be sticking with Obama, as time goes by.
Hillary Clinton, the NY Times reports, “is a rope-lining dynamo, a penchant she may have acquired from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, the all-time rope-lining king. Mr. Clinton’s willingness to shake every last hand — or engage every last heckler — was legendary.”
The willingness to engage and connect with voters, is ever so important, in my opinion. And that I think explains why so many Clinton supporters are willing to hang on with her through this long primary season. She’s put herself on the line, literally and connected with her supporters. And now those supporters are hanging on to give her the impetus to keep fighting despite the calls from her opponent’s supporters that it is time for her to go.
Barack Obama could take a few lessons from Hillary Clinton on how to work the rope line. If indeed he does become our nominee, it is clear he will need to do a better job connecting with all those voters who connected more deeply with Clinton and chose her at the voting booth, instead of him.
As I’ve said here many times, Hillary Clinton listens to her supporters, she listens to the needs of the voters. I’ve been on the rope line and had the opportunity to have my few moments with Hillary before she moved on to the person next to me. And if there is one thing I am certain of, she heard every word I said — she listened.