By Mark Hudspeth, NBC News producer
Editor's note: Mark Hudspeth is on the campaign trail with NBC's Lee Cowan, whose report on how the candidates keep going... and going... and going airs tonight on the broadcast.
I certainly wasn't the first person who had found himself sitting in church on a Sunday morning regretting a long night in Vegas. But even so, last Sunday seemed strangely unique.
I was unsuccessfully trying not to yawn, crammed in a small section of the balcony of Ebenezer Baptist Church with several dozen sleep-deprived journalists and Barack Obama campaign press aides. Most of us had spent nearly every waking hour of our 18-to-22 hour days together for more than three weeks, and had rushed to catch an overnight press charter just hours after the finding out the results of the Nevada Caucus. It was the only way to get to Atlanta in time to see Obama address the home church of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the eve of the holiday created in King's honor.
It seems like such a long time ago. I can't believe it hasn't even been a week. Lee Cowan and I have been on the road covering the Obama campaign since Christmas Day. We were on and off the trail sporadically for a few weeks before that and there are quite a few who have been out longer than that. And as the campaign reaches fever pitch leading up to the February 5th contests, it's not just the candidates, but those of us who follow their every move, who are slowly starting to realize that the frenetic pace we've been keeping is nowhere near finished. And like them we have to dig deep to keep going.
I don't know why I didn't go right to sleep on that flight from Las Vegas to Atlanta. It would have been such a nice long stretch of the REM sleep that's been in such short supply lately. That's actually not true. I do know why: a plane full of reporters covering the same story, all of whom just made both a deadline and a flight by the skin of their teeth can be a pretty lively group. We spent most of the flight chattering about the nuances of the delegate/popular vote split, speculating about whether it had been a mistake for Obama to go home to Chicago rather than stay and react to the results (maybe we were just jealous that he was doing what we all wanted to do), and commiserating about the challenges of working for East Coast news organizations while out west (my alarm to get up and do the Today Show that morning had gone off at 2a.m.).
Most of us in the balcony last Sunday had been on a similar flight to New Hampshire just hours after Obama delivered his victory speech the night of the Iowa Caucus, and will probably do it again a few hours after the polls close in South Carolina this Saturday-–regardless of the outcome.
Days on the trail seem eerily similar, yet all are different. From state to state and city to city, the candidate's speeches -- much like the floral pattern on the buses that carry us from event to event -- are mostly the same. From the early morning bag call to late night events timed for the 11p.m. local news, our day becomes mostly a search for those small departures from that sameness that become the day's news. That and the AC power we need to charge the laptops, Blackberrys, cell phones, and cameras we use to tell those stories.
Sometimes the campaign does what it can to help us fight the inevitable fatigue, like usually they have Red Bull energy drink on the bus. But sometimes they don't, like today when they scheduled a roundtable with voters right after a conference call on economic policy.
But the fatigue is always short lived, because soon enough one of those small departures hits you like cold water in the face and it's like a whole new day. And there's going to be a lot of new days before this race is settled. And until then I have no intention of missing any of them.