A Brief History of Political Bus Tours

These politicians ditched airplanes and went by bus to campaign throughout the U.S.

By: Garrett M. Graff

Sarah Palin’s summer romp through American-history sites on a specially outfitted motor coach is the latest chapter in the quadrennial oddity that is a presidential-campaign bus tour (though Palin wasn’t officially campaigning). The tradition goes back decades—in 1948, the New Republic reported that Thomas Dewey had been “waylaid” on his tour one day by a female admirer who said she’d support him because he was “so pink and pretty”—but often the most memorable moments of the tours end up being off message. Here are some famous trips and famous stumbles.

Bill Clinton and Al Gore, 1992
Slogan: First 1,000 Miles
Entourage:
28-vehicle caravan, including four media buses and a security helicopter that flew overhead.
Area Covered: Eight states
Special Perks: The tour’s success led to a Peter Pan Bus float in the presidential inaugural parade.
Memorable Message: The media dubbed the tour Bill and Al’s Excellent Adventure after the buddy movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

President George W. Bush’s Cabinet, 2003
Slogan: Jobs and Growth
Entourage:
Cabinet Secretaries John Snow, Donald Evans, and Elaine Chao
Area Covered: Two-day, six-city, 550-mile road trip in Wisconsin and Minnesota
Special Perks: The Secretaries’ luxury motor coach with a mirrored ceiling was next used by the band Aerosmith.
Memorable Message: Snow told a frustrated job seeker in a fast-food drive-through in Wisconsin: “Just wait.”

Mitt Romney, 2007
Slogan: Mitt Mobile
Entourage:
Romney’s five sons
Area Covered: 3,500-mile trek through Iowa’s 99 counties
Special Perks: The campaign ensured that the RV had Iowa license plates.
Memorable Message: Romney was forced to apologize when he compared his sons’ bus trip to US soldiers’ service in Iraq.

Barack Obama, 2008

Slogan: Road to Change
Entourage:
Senator Bob Casey and lots of police escorts
Area Covered: Six days across Pennsylvania
Special Perks: The “Truman” bus from MyLuxuryBus.com offered wi-fi, satellite TV, and seating for up to 28.
Memorable Message: While bowling in Altoona, Obama scored only a 37 (with two gutter balls), leading him to say: “My economic plan is better than my bowling.” A man in the crowd retorted: “It has to be.”

Sarah Palin, 2011
Slogan: One Nation
Entourage:
Because Palin wouldn’t say in advance where she was heading, about ten rental cars of media chased the bus.
Area Covered: National historic sites
Special Perks: The bus’s custom exterior cost roughly $8,000.
Memorable Message: Palin’s visit to the Paul Revere House in Boston led to a confusing answer about the silversmith’s role in history.

This article appears in the July 2011 issue of The Washingtonian. 

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