COLUMBIA, S.C.—I arrive at the 10:45 p.m. Obama rally to discover they’ve closed the doors. No one is to be let in. Not even campaign staff. Fire marshal’s orders. Variations on this scene happen every few days. There’s always some fire code invoked, then quietly violated. You learn to talk your way in, find another entrance, or slip past the volunteer on door duty while she’s immersed in her BlackBerry.
But these guys look serious. A group of official-seeming men in blazers stand behind the plate glass doors, trying not to make eye contact with the horde of press people outside. A woman taps on the glass; they just shake their heads silently. When this A-Team leaves, the unfortunate job of bouncer falls to a secret service lug. He looks exactly like Herc from The Wire , gentle side and all. Just as he’s rounding the corner, almost out of sight, you can see the stone face crack a smile.
Meanwhile, it’s not getting any warmer outside. "There’s gotta be a formula," says one reporter. "Forty degrees outside … however many journalists …they know exactly how long till we leave."
Another journalist doubts the room has reached capacity. "Not even Bon Jovi could fill this thing up."
"Is it like a club?" cracks a guy toting a camera. "Do you have to bring a girl to get in?"
Then, as often happens when you leave trail reporters alone, the campaign slogans start to come out. "What’s keeping us here is the audacity of hope," someone points out. "Yes, the time for change has come," responds another, shivering. "We certainly are outsiders," observes a third.
Finally, a staffer comes to the door and tells us to go around to the front. There, chief strategist David Axelrod emerges with Stacey Brayboy, the South Carolina campaign director. They’ve come to apologize. "I’m sorry, it’s full," Brayboy tells us. "There’s 2,500 people in there," Axelrod says. "It’s inspiring. You guys are inspiring, too." My heart would flutter if it weren't frozen solid.
As a consolation prize, Axelrod promises free tickets to the Saturday-night election rally—which most of us registered for days ago. A reporter wonders out loud if there’s a piece to be written about the event being full. "That’s news, right?" No one answers. I crack open my laptop.