BEDFORD, N.H. -- Like pilgrims to Mecca, Katie Couric and we (her producers) made the journey every journalist covering presidential politics eventually takes — to visit John McCain aboard his famously rollicking Straight Talk Express.
The bus first gained fame in 2000 — the symbol of McCain's unscripted, insurgent campaign. A combination of press-conference-on-wheels, Catskills-style-comedy-show, and road trip, a ride through New Hampshire aboard the Straight Talk Express was also an essential part of the courtship between McCain and smitten national journalists.
We found out yesterday that even though the Straight Talk has had the same driver since 2000, the name has graced several different buses. There was one bus in 1999 — when McCain's campaign seemed a serious long-shot. There was another bus added after McCain's New Hampshire win in 2000 — when the maverick briefly became the front-runner. There was yet another bus (a seriously posh "luxury coach") in 2007 — when McCain began this year's run as the well-funded Establishment choice — which had to be replaced when his campaign ran low on money.
Before Katie's interview, McCain told us (half-jokingly) that his team found their current bus "at some junkyard" — a sentiment with which his wife, Cindy, heartily agreed. The carpets are ratty. The TV is blurry. The chairs are — shall we say — well lived-in. And forget seatbelts: reporters and campaign aides stand together — crammed in tight — literally falling onto each other at each creaky stop.
But if John McCain defies a whole generation of pundits who predicted his political death last summer — and wins New Hampshire today — he may remember this junkyard jitney as the best bus of all, the one that symbolizes his campaign turnaround, his determination in the face of adversity, his personal and political resilience. This Straight Talk Express may be the one that drives him to far more opulent transportation — aboard Air Force One.