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Tales From the Trail: Sleepless in South Carolina

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

Sleepless in South Carolina

Amid the constant campaign schedule of events and new floods of TV ads, I’ve found myself almost forgetting to acknowledge the nutty wonderfulness of covering a campaign.

Two of the key moments in that nuttiness in the last two weeks were the excursions from Iowa to New Hampshire and then New Hampshire to South Carolina. They’re trips that are worth documenting – because the tenor of these trips are often reflective of the greater emotions of the campaign trail.

In the week leading up to the Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz was crushing cities across the state, flying and driving from one town to the next. It all culminated on caucus night, when leftover adrenaline seemingly kept this media-political complex afloat.

After his caucus night victory speech, Cruz and the press rushed to the Des Moines International Airport for a charter flight out of town. With winds gusting and cold temps pinching the face, the plane loaded up and took off just after 1 a.m. It landed at 5 a.m. ET. In the airport, the Cruz camp and Bernie Sanders team found themselves amongst one another – both waiting for bags and tracking down buses.

I waited behind with NBC producer Elyse Perlumutter-Gumbiner, as we fed out an interview she shot aboard Sanders’ charter flight.

We finally caught a ride with our pilots in a tightly-packed minivan. The sun was beginning to peek over the horizon – the sky become a light blue. I found a bed in a colleague’s room to crash on for an hour and a half before reigniting the day – one that took us through New Hampshire and then on another plane to and from South Carolina.

Fast forward to New Hampshire, where Cruz left the Granite State with a solid third-place finish. This time, unlike John Kasich or Marco Rubio, the Cruz campaign left us to fend off the elements and find our own routes to South Carolina.

After a two-hour power nap back in my Nashua hotel following Cruz’s primary watch party, I threw the clothes, tripod, camera and backpack in the car for my 7 a.m. flight, which routed me to Detroit for a pit stop. (You take whatever flights you can get, even when they take you the wrong direction.)

In moments of little sleep, you often remember the finest moment. My takeaway from this second leg? I consumed a terrific Potbelly sandwich for the first time in seven months at the Detroit airport. Thank you, Detroit.

-- Vaughn Hillyard covering the Cruz caucuses

Rubio’s sweet tooth now a problem

MYRTLE BEACH, SC — The campaign trail is taking a toll on Marco Rubio.

At least, it is on his teeth.

Sitting down for an impromptu lunch with reporters at Cracker Barrel on Thursday, the Florida senator told reporters he had to have his molar fixed after he cracked it on a Twix bar the day before.

“I’m getting old!” he joked.

He was told to only eat soft foods, and so he had blueberry pancakes with blueberry syrup while chatting with reporters, while his kids munched on breakfast at a nearby table. During the breakfast, a number of patrons and at least one waitress came up to shake his hand and snap a picture, and dental work aside, he offered up every pic he was asked for.

The senator’s health again came up at a midday town hall in Myrtle Beach, when a questioner asked him directly about it. He seemed surprised, wondering if there was any particular thing that caused her to inquire.

He noted he was 44, “but I feel 45.” And overall, “my health is pretty good — I think.”

“I’ll let you know in the next week or so,” after the South Carolina primary is over, he joked.

-- Alexandra Jaffe covering the Rubio campaign