MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Want to know what separates the “top tier” presidential candidates from the “second tier?”
Polls? Interesting. But they can be wrong.
Talent? Sometimes. But never bet against dumb luck.
Votes? Oh sure, there’s that — but victory in one state doesn’t always carry over to another. Ask Mike Huckabee. Winner in Iowa, distant third the next week in New Hampshire.
No, the way to tell the top tier is by how they travel. Top tier candidates have their own jets.
Their cars ride straight onto the tarmac, they get out, jog up the steps, settle into a leather chair, lean back and fly off serenely to the next campaign event.
Second-tier candidates do not have their own jets. They drive to the local airport, slog through the security lines, wait in the gate area with the masses, squeeze into a narrow seat and eat the same bag of peanuts as the rest of us.
Consider one day on the campaign trail for the Democrats.
All the candidates appeared at a rally in Indianola, Iowa. After each spoke, those with their own jets, such as New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, shook hands leisurely, then made their way into their waiting Chevy Suburbans for the speedy drive to their waiting jets.
Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, by contrast, did not have his own jet. While he tried to shake as many hands as he could, aides paced nervously, reminding him how long it would take to get to the Des Moines airport and through the security lines for his commercial flight.
Another time, Clinton was able to participate in a debate in South Carolina with her rivals, then jet home to Washington to sleep in her own bed while the jet-deprived trekked off to the local Holiday Inn. She flew back to South Carolina in the morning for a breakfast.
It’s rarified air they breathe on those Gulfstreams.
Take the time Clinton and Obama met wing to wing on the tarmac at Washington’s National Airport, waiting to jet off to a debate. Aides negotiated a personal exchange before the candidates walked the several feet to actually speak to one another.
One can almost imagine one looking out the window and saying to the other, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?”
Some give names to their chartered jets.
John F. Kennedy used the family plane in 1960 and called it the Caroline, after his daughter.
Bob Dole in 1996 called his plane the “Leader’s Ship” after his job as Senate majority leader. After he stepped down from that job to campaign full time, he renamed the plane the “Citizen’s Ship.”
Clinton, who recently moved up to a 737 to carry more people, dubbed it “Hill Force One,” a takeoff on her husband’s old plane, Air Force One.
It’s not always high-flying glamour and ease, however. Clinton’s plane has had numerous mechanical problems.
One caused her to be late arriving at a South Carolina march honoring the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Another delayed an arrival in Arizona by more than an hour. Yet another made her late arriving at another South Carolina rally.
“I am so sorry to be late,” she said. “Some of it was us off to a late start, but there were other things we had to deal with. And some of it was delays in air travel.”
So even with a chartered jet, the candidates sometimes have to deal with air travel delays like the rest of us. But they always have better seats, and more peanuts.