The Legend of the Button Guys

As I have said about the Countdown, not only you hear what’s going on, but I will be sharing some good ole tales from the road. Many of you, who know me very well, know I love telling a good war story. And this one has to be one of my current favorites. In true hack fashion, grab a glass… we just ordered a few pitchers and if you’re hungry, the waitress will be back with menus. Relax and let the stories begin.

A special behind the scenes story for the “Countdown,” I want to introduce you to some of my very special correspondents in the field, The Button Guys. I think it was one of the Chicago Tribune reporters that said, “You want to know what’s going on in town, ask the cabbies. You want to know what’s going on the campaign trail, ask the button guys.” It’s a funny thing on campaigns how you develop friendships and acquaintances as you go along. This is story of how I got to know these cool insiders and gained some really great friends.

So… my buddy T-Roy Bishop (who is teaching at DMACC now BTW, way to go T-Roy!) and I are talking shop at our favorite hangout, Flanagan’s (we’re kind of the Cliff and Norm down there, but more on that later) Fred Thompson was ready to join the race and we were hashing out what the affects will be. Who was working where and so on… this is what staffers do. It’s like guys going over who your team is picking up in the next draft.

At the corner of the bar, a couple of guys are over hearing this subject matter. You knew they were involved somehow, they were following along with the campaignese that hacks speak (seriously, if you’re not in politics, hacks talking to hacks can seem like they talking in Martian). So one of the two pipes up, “You guys talking politics? Which ones do you guys work for?” T-Roy says, “Yea, he works for McCain, I used to work for Gilmore. What do you guys do?” The new guy says, “We sell buttons. We’re here to chase Fred around the state for his announcement tour.” “Oh yea?” I replied, “The button guys, huh? I used to kick you out of Bush events in ’04.”

He had the look of, “oh great, this guy is going to be a lot of help.” After trading a few jokes back and forth, we had started a good discussion of the current state of the race. These guys were hitting tons of Dem events. They knew the exact size of the crowds, the demographics, and everything. While campaign guys look at crowd sizes as votes and media hits, button guys see dollar signs. It was like reading Politico listening to these two on their takes. The insight they had on the events they covered actually meshed up with the end results with the Caucuses.

“Edwards is going to better than what you think, fellas,” Curt the lead guy of the crew said. “His people are very loyal buyers.” “Yea, and Obama is gonna dominate as well, his crowds are huge,” remarked Jeremy one of Curt’s guys.

Curt asked if we knew any schedules for upcoming Republican events, especially Fred’s, that’s why they were in town. Every campaign keeps an eye on the other guys’ scheds. It’s the modern times of Republican communication shops in the post BC ’04 era, but more on that in another post. I had Fred’s tour schedule on my Blackberry and Curt wrote down the times and addresses. Of course I cut a deal to get a few buttons here and there, I’m a collector. Love that stuff.

For the next few weeks, Curt and the Button guys made Flanagan’s their official hang out. After work, they’d be down there giving me the run down on what they’re hearing, and I’d give them the details on upcoming visits. They were getting great coverage on events and I was increasing my collection while getting great scoop from the road.

Thanksgiving was around the corner and Curt and his crew were heading back home for the holiday. I was on my way home to Jewell to take in the Thanksgiving Vigil festivities when Curt gave me a ring. After the weekend, he and his crew would be living in Iowa all the way through to the Caucuses. After quick negotiations, I decided to let his crew crash in the living room of my apartment.

I figured, I don’t really live in my place. With the crazy hours we were keeping, I simply just slept at my place. From then on, my living room was the button headquarters. Picture this… boxes of buttons and t-shirts, a couple of air mattresses and cramped quarters. But the guys always thought it was much better than a hotel room. There was a sense of home to it, they said.

They were great roomies. Coffee was always on and the first one out would start “the Hoopty” (my car’s nickname) on cold mornings. Sunday morning became quite the tradition at Button HQ. Curt would be doing his weekly accounting and inventory. The other two, Jeremy and Cameron, would be cracking jokes at me as I get pretty animated while watching Sunday talk shows. After Meet the Press and Insiders were over, they’d be off to their first event and I’d get ready to head into the office. It was a decent set up. They even came up to my parents place in Jewell for the famous Christmas Eve party along with other McCain out of state volunteers. Good times.

The rest is history as they say. We became the best of friends and contacts on the road. Curt and Jeremy both live in Sarasota, FL on the beach. Since I may actually have vacation time for the first time in my life, we’re planning a Button Guy reunion down there, once the campaign is over. I told ‘em, “Yea man, we gotta do some deep water fishing or something. Never done that before.” Quick with a joke Curt said, “Dude, its deep sea fishing. But you got it, we absolutely will at the reunion.”

They’re now all spread out across the country. I get a call from them every day. Now that they know I’m doing this blog, they all have agreed to be my official correspondents. Giving insights from events, cool places for a quick bite and everything in between. Here’s the names and characters you’ll be hearing from on the “Countdown:”

Campaign Curt - He’s the ring leader. The veteran of the crew, been at this thing since 1996 covering Clinton and Dole events and some sports ones as well.

Jersey Jeremy – JJ is a Jersey native, heating and cooling specialist by trade turned button guy. When he’s not at event, he’s usually chatting up the cute girl at the bar.

Carnie Cameron – A Midwestern native, he’s taking a year off to be on the road. He’s Carnie Cameron because he always says, “We’re just glorified carnies man, glorified carnies.”

Champaign Tommy – He was a late addition to the team, also from Florida. He looks like Joe Walsh of the Eagles, minus the drugs. CT is hilarious.

King Phil Fun – He’s a real 60’s throwback. His claims to fame is hanging out with Janis Joplin, being in Monterrey when Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar and of course, he was at Woodstock.