Walter Shapiro, a political columnist for USA Today, says he set out to write a different kind of campaign book about the 2004 presidential contest. Rather than wait until after the race was over, Shapiro's new book, One-Car Caravan, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the early days of the Democratic campaign.
Shapiro says his book is different "because it's coming out before voters make their decision." The problem with traditional campaign books, he tells NPR's Bob Edwards, is that "readers know the story by the time they open page one... The whole idea was to... publish at a point when readers cared, when voters care, when I care and my colleagues on the press bus might even care."
He found that candidates are more accessible in the early going of a campaign. Shapiro recalls a two-and-a-half-hour chat with then Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in the back seat of a car during a long ride in New Hampshire. "In September of 2002, Howard Dean wasn't sure what the message was, let alone worrying about going off-message," Shapiro says.
On another occasion, the author watched as Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts frantically searched for his cell phone, desperately hoping for word on his mother, who had just been hospitalized. These are the moments "where you get a real window into who these candidates are as people," Shapiro says.
So what's his prediction for the outcome of the 2004 campaign? "That's the wonderful thing about writing this book," Shapiro says. "I leave the stage in the middle of the feature having no idea how it's going to come out, and I am just as baffled as the reader."
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