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Tales From the Trail: The Amazing Race We Just Can't Win

Want to know what the NBC News Embeds saw? Follow their daily journey to the inside of the 2016 presidential campaign here:
A sign endorsing Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is posted on a property off Interstate 35 near Sac City, Iowa, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)Mary Altaffer / AP

Want to know what the NBC News Embeds saw? Follow their daily journey to the inside of the 2016 presidential campaign here:

The Amazing Race We Just Can’t Win

SOMEWHERE ALONG I-80, Iowa – Reporters covering Hillary Clinton are in a never-ending version of “The Amazing Race,” competing against the campaign schedule, weather conditions and time zones. (Spoiler alert: We almost always lose.)

Clinton relies predominantly on a private jet to make it to all her stops, especially in Iowa where many events are spread out on opposite sides of the state. It’s the only way to make it to several fundraisers, campaign rallies and media appearances in one day.

This time in other cycles, front-runners had press planes. But that’s not the case in 2016. That’s why, when the campaign provides a press bus in snowy January, reporters are grateful.

Twenty journalists from TV, print and radio outlets piled in to ride from Indianola to Vinton to Iowa City to cover Clinton Thursday.

There’s wi-fi, power outlets and snacks (the three keys to keeping journalists happy) and reporters mostly use the transit time to file their stories (something you can’t do when you’re driving 3 hours to Burlington).

Everyone gets their own row and lovely view of the Iowan plains. And although there are no cup holders on board, some of us have found a creative solution.

The bus is typically a quiet workspace, but Thursday morning, the soundtrack to Bernie Sanders’ new ad – Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” – could be heard softly streaming in the back.

-- Monica Alba covering the Clinton campaign

Jeb Bush woos votes one ‘affair’ at a time

KEENE, N.H —The first question for Jeb Bush at his town hall Wednesday night wasn’t a question at all, but a “love affair” according to the former governor’s own assessment of the exchange.

“I’m for you,” the woman said. “I have been from the very beginning.”

“Come over here I gotta get a hug from you,” Bush said.

“No, you come over here,” the woman told him.

“That wasn’t a question, that was a love affair,” he said after the encounter. However, the joke left the woman a little defensive, “No, never in my lifetime have I done that to my husband,” she said as Bush walked away.

Hugs with voters have become common practice for Bush in the final weeks before New Hampshire’s primary where he can dole out up to a dozen embraces at each of his town hall events.

For his part, the governor frequently jokes about his own “Latin American affair” when he tells the story of falling in love with his wife in Mexico – often comparing it to a "bolt of lightning."

The governor’s wife is also campaigning in New Hampshire this week, but the pair has yet to appear together at a public event in the state.

-- Jordan Frasier covering the Bush campaign

Rubio wins over welders

BROOKLINE, N.H -- Philosophers may not be pleased with Marco Rubio since his call for “more welders and less philosophers” during the November GOP debate caught fire.

But the line won him fans among the welder set — and on Thursday, in Brookline, N.H. he stopped by a pipe manufacturing firm at the invite of one of those welder supporters who said he was pleasantly surprised by Rubio’s remark.

Kyle Reagan, Decco’s executive vice president, introduced Rubio by recounting how he was watching the Fox Business debate and jumped out of his seat when the senator touted welders over philosophers.

“Did you hear what Rubio just said about welders?” he said he texted his friends and colleagues.

From then on, Rubio had a supporter in Reagan. He was inspired enough by the line, in fact, to have it printed on a huge banner that the company hangs at its annual welding competition. The banner hung on the wall behind Rubio during his town hall at Decco, and he told the audience of welders and local residents about his proposal to expand vocational training.

“These are good jobs and we have a shortage of people who can do it. That will change when I am president of the United States,” he said.

-- Alex Jaffe covering tonight’s GOP presidential debate

The endorsement game

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Two Republican campaigns putting a strong emphasis on New Hampshire earned notable new supporters Thursday as the clock ticks down to the state’s all-important primary.

Fergus Cullen, the former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, and the author of “Granite Steps,” a book chronicling the history of the New Hampshire primary, endorsed John Kasich on Thursday. “If a Republican is going to win in November, we need to attract voters, not repel them. John Kasich can carry New Hampshire in a general election and I don’t think most of the other candidates can,” he said in a statement.

Cullen told NBC News two weeks ago, before the endorsement, that Kasich has been able to quietly move through the pack of 2016 candidates without taking incoming fire. “Kasich has been sneaking through and not considered a threat really,” he said. “Let Right to Rise take Christie down, and Bush has his own limitations. Hopefully Cruz and Trump take down Rubio in Iowa.” A copy of Cullen’s book was also seen on Kasich’s bus during a recent New Hampshire trip.

Also, veteran New Hampshire Republican strategist Paul Young is joining Jeb Bush's New Hampshire campaign as an advisor. Young was previously an advisor to Lindsey Graham in New Hampshire and his new role starts a day after Graham was back in the state campaigning for Bush, though he indicated that he saw an opening for Bush before Graham’s endorsement. “I think New Hampshire voters are just starting to give him a second look,” Young told NBC News of Bush. “Up to 3rd place tie with Rubio in the latest poll and I think he has the most staying power beyond New Hampshire of all the responsible candidates.”

-- Kailani Koenig covering the New Hampshire primary