Girls in the Van: Covering Hillary

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Overview

The Girls in the Van is the ultimate press pass to Hillary Clinton's historic Senate run, following the first lady from the moment she dons a black pantsuit and a Yankees cap all the way to her historic victory. This book is a front-row seat in the press van as Hillary takes a "My Fair Lady" -style Yiddish lesson, invokes Harriet Tubman thirty times on a tour of black churches, and spends as much time explaining why she kissed Yassir Arafat's wife as she does justifying why she stays married to Bill. The Girls in...

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Overview

The Girls in the Van is the ultimate press pass to Hillary Clinton's historic Senate run, following the first lady from the moment she dons a black pantsuit and a Yankees cap all the way to her historic victory. This book is a front-row seat in the press van as Hillary takes a "My Fair Lady" -style Yiddish lesson, invokes Harriet Tubman thirty times on a tour of black churches, and spends as much time explaining why she kissed Yassir Arafat's wife as she does justifying why she stays married to Bill. The Girls in the Van takes you on an unforgettable trip, from the ladies room at the Waldorf to the garden of the Clinton's Westchester home.

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Editorial Reviews

Bruce Morton
Beth Harpaz...offers some of the best insights I've read into the woman who is our most famous, and most mysterious, senator.
CNN National Correspondent
Walter Mears
...fine reading for anyone interested in politics, Clintons and the inside lore of the way campaigns are covered.
AP Senior Political Correspondent
Publishers Weekly
For two long years, Associated Press staff writer Harpaz covered Hillary Clinton's Senate election campaign. This journal of those days serves as an update of Timothy Crouse's 1972 insider's account of political reporting, The Boys on the Bus. It's a worthy successor insightful, honest and funny. Much has changed in reporting since 1972. Typewriters and telephones have been replaced by laptops and Palm pilots, and women, all but absent in Crouse's book, make up half of the reporters covering Clinton. Harpaz spends most of her time trying to gain access to the always aloof Hillary, no easy task since, as depicted here, she uses her status as First Lady, and all the security that entails, to keep the press at bay. Only after months of scheming and begging, for instance in an episode that's both hilarious and telling is Harpaz able to get a simple list of favorites (color, food, movie, etc.) from the candidate. In the end, Harpaz can't decide if Hillary is a controlling politician or a sincere public advocate, a cold schemer or warm friend to all, and she comes to realize why her subject has been such a lightning rod for both hate and adoration. There's more here: how reporters cope with the absolute boredom of hearing the same few speeches months on end, how Harpaz tries, not very successfully, to have a normal home life for her two small children while working a time-consuming job. But it's soon-to-be-Senator Clinton who dominates the story, and Harpaz offers an insightful portrait that is a joy to read. Agent, Jane Dystel. (Oct. 8) Forecast: Harpaz's eye for detail and razor-sharp wit should appeal to an audience beyond just political junkies. With good word of mouth-and regional N.Y.promotion- it could do quite well. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The campaign travelog has ranged widely from portraits in courage to studies in evil to telling tales out of school, as in Timothy Crouse's 1972 The Boys on the Bus. Here AP writer Harpaz recounts the story of First Lady Hillary Clinton's 62-county campaign to become a U.S. Senator from New York. Harpaz takes us backstage into the exhausted press bus games of "Punchy Bug" and re-creates the frustrations of covering a senate candidate who has the added cover of a Secret Service detail. Even Harpaz never suspected the scandal-damaged First Lady would enter the ugly fray until April 1999, when she first turned to acknowledge the New York press corps on a school tour. Sixteen months, two opponents, and, to quote Mrs. Clinton, "six black pant suits later," she beat Congressman Rick Lazio by a full 12 points. Harpaz makes a sympathetic and plainspokenly likable guide watching the cool candidate emerge from the media-leery First Lady; at one point, Harpaz lucks into a one-on-one "avail" with Mrs. Clinton, who cagily turns the subject back to Harpaz's efforts to toilet-train her toddler. In the end, despite the time away from her own family and the hundreds of manipulations by the candidate's staff, Harpaz ends up feeling a trace of admiration for this transformed "carpetbagger with a suitcase full of scandals" who "had outdone a squeaky-clean local boy." Recommended for all public libraries. Nathan Ward, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A detailed account of Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign, from an AP staff writer. In 1998, when Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced his retirement plans, New Yorkers began to speculate as to who would replace him. As the race narrowed to First Lady Hillary Clinton and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, many in the press corps thought a success for Clinton was unlikely: she had never held elective office or lived in New York, and she had just weathered eight years of White House scandals. But the press didn't factor in Clinton's appeal to liberals, women, and upstate voters; her "Listening Tour" visited all 62 counties, coverage that Giuliani and Rick Lazio (who won the Republican nomination after the mayor dropped out) didn't come close to duplicating. Harpaz deftly chronicles the events surrounding the race. Even though she was campaigning for public office, Clinton remained elusive. Frustrated by the lack of media access (dubbed "avails"), the press corps never knew if the campaign's stonewalling was due to security concerns, Clinton's reserved disposition, or her general distrust of the media. Harpaz provides juicy details contrasting Clinton and Lazio: while the first lady's foreign-policy vision, as presented to the Council on Foreign Relations, "cover[ed] everything from the Balkans to missile-defense technology to human rights to Israel," Lazio "referred to the president of North Korea as ‘Kim Jong the Second' instead of ‘Kim Jong Il.' " Some of the first lady's initial comments betrayed her carpetbagger status, but by the end of the race "she ended up an expert on everything from treating asthma in the Bronx to getting high-speed Internet access inBuffalo." And Harpaz's chronicle of a mostly female press corps covering the first woman ever to hold statewide office in New York makes for exhilarating reading. Solid and worthwhile.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641556487
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/1901
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.52 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Beth Harpaz joined The Associated Press in 1988 after working for newspapers in Staten Island, N.Y., and Bergen County, N.J. She has won feature-writing awards from the New York Press Club and the Newswomen's Club of New York, and she holds degrees from Cornell University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her coverage of Hillary Clinton's campaign has appeared in newspapers all over the country, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


You Wanna Go Forward, You Put It in D


November 6, 2000. We are somewhere in the air between Rochester and La Guardia, in a twelve-seat turboprop plane, playing a Frank Buckley Travel Game that is slowly restoring my sanity.

"For more than thirty years, I've been working on behalf of children," says one of my colleagues in a tone of voice that strikes the perfect balance between self-righteousness and humility.

"Mr. Lazio does go on," says another, a broad smile breaking across her face as the rest of us clap in tribute to such a clever dredging-up of one of Hillary's pronouncements from the candidates' last debate. It's a phrase that nobody but us could instantly place.

"Thank you so-o-o-o-o much!" That one is so familiar to anyone who's hung around Hillary for more than five minutes that it's almost cheating, but we all laugh anyway.

"In one school I visited, there was a textbook that actually said, 'Someday there'll be a man on the moon.' " That's my contribution, and I'm gratified that it elicits a cry of "Good one!" and a smattering of applause.

"Hey," I add, "did anyone here ever see that textbook?" Heads shake all around. I've yet to find a reporter who actually laid eyes on this book that Hillary has mentioned, oh, about a thousand times, in her speeches on education. Frank Buckley is a correspondent for CNN, a wickedly funny man who was constantly coming up with games like this, the kinds of games you played when you were a kid and your parents drove to the Grand Canyon. On this trip, he started with a game namingdifferent types of fruit, then different types of accessories—bracelet, belt, scarf, etc. I didn't play either one of those; my mind was too full of Hillary. Then there was a game in which you had to come up with the names of New York's sixty-two counties: Dutchess, Erie, Putnam, Tompkins, Genesee . . . Most of the reporters on this plane were New York City-based, and we petered out of that game pretty fast, but we all knew that Hillary would have won it in a heartbeat. As she never tired of reminding us (and the voters), she'd been to all those counties, every last one. But the game we were playing as we headed back to New York City consisted of lines from Hillary's speeches, and it was exactly what I needed to try to exorcise her from my brain. I am a reporter for the Associated Press, and I spent more than two years writing and thinking and talking about Hillary. I documented her screwups and her finest moments; I dismissed her as an amateur and pronounced her senatorial; I memorized her speeches and obscure facts about her life (middle name, Diane; birthdate, 10-26-47; favorite color, yellow; number of months she took for maternity leave after Chelsea was born, four; where she met Bill, in the Yale law library); I watched her laugh hysterically and I saw her eyes well up with tears; I sang her "Happy Birthday" and I received a present from her for my children; and I asked her everything from whether she had had plastic surgery to her views on a Palestinian state to why a guy who owns strip clubs in Chicago was on the list of donors who slept over at the White House. When she made news, it was exciting; but more often, it was mundane, and the way I entertained myself was by becoming a Hillary Kremlinologist, the type of person who knows that when she drapes a blue sweater over her shoulders without actually putting her arms through the sleeves, she's trying to appeal to suburban women; when she wears a skirt, she's going to church; when she's happy and making jokes with her press corps, she's up in the polls; when she shuts down every question by answering, "I'll leave that to others to characterize," she's gotten a talking-to from Bill about how to get reporters to change the subject; and when she calls somebody "my good friend," she's pandering to whatever ethnic group the alleged friend belongs to. In The Boys on the Bus, a book about the press corps covering the 1972 presidential campaign, author Timothy Crouse said the reporters "followed the candidate everywhere, heard his standard speech so many dozens of times they could recite it with him, watched his moods go up and down, speculated constantly on his chances, wrote songs about him, told jokes at his expense, traded gossip about him, and were lucky if they did not dream about him into the bargain." Twenty-eight years later, about the only difference I saw was that our candidate was a woman—a woman whose staff and whose press corps was more than half female. We were no longer the boys on the bus; if anything, we were the girls in the van.

One of my colleagues, Tish Durkin of the New York Observer, said you knew you'd spent too much time with Hillary when you're in a restaurant and you imitate her way of saying "Thank yeeewww!" and you can't understand why the waitress isn't laughing. Suddenly you realize that not everyone in the universe spends all his or her time making fun of Hillary. In my case, that realization came when a neighbor told me how polite my son was. "Really?" I asked, surprised to hear that Danny, a typically boisterous seven-year-old, had impressed someone with his manners. "Yes," said the woman. "I heard him tell someone, 'Thank you so-o-o-o-o much!' " I assured her that he wasn't being polite, he was just making fun of Hillary.

One evening near the end of the campaign when I got home late, I put my toddler, Nathaniel, on my lap, hoping to score some of that elusive quality time I keep reading about in parenting magazines. I offered to sing one of his favorite songs, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," only to have him chirp back, "No! I wanna sing the Hillary song!" I tried the baseball song instead, but he kept interrupting me to demand "the Hillary song." Finally I gave in and launched into a takeoff of the Beatles' "Yesterday," now "Hill-a-ry," a collaboration of lyrics by my husband, myself, and an assignment editor who had heard me serenading the newsroom with it one morning.

Hill-a-ry

All your troubles seem so far away!

Now it looks as though you're here to stay

Oh, you believe in Hill-a-ry.

But perhaps the truest sign that I, like many of my colleagues, was suffering from Hillary Traumatic Stress Disorder was the dog episode. As I'd walked to the subway a few days before the election, a man in a dark suit with a German shepherd on a leash had come toward me, and in sheer reflex, I'd started to slide my knapsack off my shoulder and down my arm, ready to open it up for the dog to sniff. Fortunately I realized, before making a total fool of myself, that this individual was not one of Hillary's Secret Service agents, checking me for explosives with the K-9 unit; he was just walking his dog.

As I flew home this night, the night before the day that would deliver me from that beat, that obsession, that story, I tried to imagine Life After Hillary. Very soon, I'd be able to work an eight-hour day, get through a Saturday without checking my e-mail for Hillary's schedule, make dinner for my children, read a novel, and hum a song that was not about Hillary. But aboard that plane, I couldn't get her out of my mind, and given my obsessive state, the Frank Buckley Travel Game was highly cathartic. I could just blurt out any Hillary phrase kicking around in my brain and it counted as my turn.

The game was also a good way to take everybody's mind off the plane ride. If it hadn't been obvious that any attempt by the pilots to kill us all would also have caused their own deaths, I would have been certain that they were trying to do us in. More likely, we suspected they were simply trying to make us late for every one of our stops. First they aborted a takeoff for no apparent reason, slamming on the brakes just as we were about to become airborne en route from La Guardia to Binghamton. Then as we were leaving Binghamton for Buffalo, they started rolling down the runway without closing the door to the outside, realizing their error only when a warning light came on. Next they delayed our flight from Buffalo to Albany because they had mistakenly thought we were going to Rochester first and had to get new flight plans approved. And finally, after we were strapped in and ready to leave Albany for Rochester, they removed all our luggage and gear from the underbelly of the plane because the weight wasn't distributed properly.

The copilot had also insisted on spending five minutes before each takeoff giving us emergency instructions, amounting to the same drill four times in twenty-four hours. When he got up on the final leg of the trip and asked for our attention, I just looked at him and whined, "You're not going to tell us about the fire extinguishers again, are you?" He grinned and said, "Why don't you do it."

"Okay," I said, and proceeded to inform my fellow passengers, in as loud and official a voice as I could muster, that one extinguisher was in the rear on the right and one behind the cockpit, that the emergency exit could be opened by pushing and throwing the plug out the window, and that in the event that life jackets were required during this flight over central New York, they were under no circumstances to be inflated before exiting the plane.

We put our seat belts on and turned our cell phones off, but moments later the pilot climbed out of the cockpit and informed us that all three metropolitan airports—La Guardia, Kennedy, and Newark—had been completely shut down for three hours because the president was flying in. They could take us to Farmingdale, on Long Island, or Westchester, north of the city, but they couldn't fly us anywhere remotely close to Hillary's last event, a union rally in midtown Manhattan.

Naturally, this last announcement was met with a great deal of skepticism. Yes, sometimes one of the airports was closed for a few minutes because Bill Clinton was flying in, but never all three, and never for three hours. One by one, everyone whipped out his or her cell phone and started calling Hillary's campaign staff to find out what the hell was going on. Bill Clinton wasn't even supposed to be arriving in New York until the next day. In fact, none of the information the pilot had given us about why we couldn't fly home made any sense, but it did confirm our suspicions that the guys responsible for flying us around on Hillary's last day hated her, and by extension us, and were doing their best to screw up coverage of her final tour on the campaign trail. It was all the more infuriating because our employers were paying $1,000 per person for this fly-around.

After a few of our frantic phone calls to Hillary's staff, the pilot came back out of the cockpit to inform us that, lo and behold, he'd received permission to fly into La Guardia after all. We would arrive too late to cover the union rally, but most of us—including me—had called our editors to make sure other reporters from our New York City offices could get there in time. If it had been earlier in the campaign, some of us might have tried to get to the bottom of this inexplicable series of assertions by the pilots for a possible story. But now we were all just too tired and overwhelmed with other news to care. After months of polls showing Hillary up, Hillary down, and Hillary neck and neck with her Republican opponents in the Senate race—first our tough-talking New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, then an affable, hard-to-pin-down Long Island congressman named Rick Lazio—it was clear that the first lady was going to make history by winning this election. Not only were the polls finally showing her with substantial leads, but the Lazio campaign had fallen apart, with one fiasco after another and a round of eleventh-hour attacks by the Republican Party equating Hillary with, of all things, terrorism.

But even if you didn't know anything about the polls, and you didn't know anything about how the campaigns had fared since mid-October, all you had to do was watch Hillary and her staff on that final day to know they were headed for a win. No poker players here; victory was all over their faces. Even the grueling schedules of the past few days hadn't dampened their energy and upbeat moods. On the Sunday before election day, for example, Hillary had a sixteen-hour day with ten events. She started at 7 a.m. to cram in speeches in seven black churches in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn, followed by a Q-and-A for us, a rally for Haitian-Americans at Brooklyn College, and then a flight to Binghamton for a 10:30 p.m. event at the airport. Everyone in the press corps was exhausted and muttering gibberish by the time we got to the upstate rally; I felt like a neglected child—no dinner in my belly, in need of a bathroom, runny nose, chapped lips, dirty fingernails, ink on my face, missing my family, and half-hating, half in awe of the hardworking candidate who was putting me through all this and didn't appear to be half as tired as I was.

We found 350 people, most in down coats and jeans, waiting for us when we got to Binghamton. It seemed like a pretty impressive turnout for such an out-of-the-way place so late on a chilly November night. Just three days earlier, Lazio had held a noontime rally in a waterfront park in Buffalo on a beautiful day, accompanied by Senator John McCain and a couple of big-name local athletes, including former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jack Kemp, who'd also been a congressman, secretary of housing and urban development, and the GOP's 1996 vice-presidential nominee. Despite the star power, only a hundred people had shown up, proof positive that Lazio's campaign was deflating. As I stood in the hangar in Binghamton, watching the pumped-up crowd waiting for Hillary late on a cold Sunday night, it hit me that she was really going to win. She'd focused on the lagging upstate economy as a theme of her campaign, and she'd spent months traveling around traditionally conservative regions of the state—places Democrats usually assumed they couldn't win—and all her efforts were about to pay off. Suddenly the crowd let out a roar, and there she was on the stage. She'd changed clothes since we'd left the city, from a frumpy purple plaid skirtsuit that seemed just right for church, to one of her sleek black pantsuits with a blue blouse the color of her eyes. Her hairdo was freshly pouffed and sculpted, and I could see, even from the back of the hangar where the press was forced to stand, that her makeup had been redone, heavy on the eyeliner for a glamorous look on the local eleven o'clock news.

But what was even more striking than her appearance was her demeanor. She was rockin'. It was as if this were her first appearance of the day instead of her tenth in fifteen or so hours. In one of the black churches we'd attended, the choir had sung "Victory today is mine," and in another, the pastor had told Hillary and his cheering congregation, "God said, 'We got the victory!' Our first lady got our vote. We got the first lady on lockdown. We got the polls on lockdown. When we pray, God answers our prayers, so it's already yours!" It was clear that she still felt that way, here and now, in a completely different place, a place filled with as many white faces, far from the city, as that church had been filled with black faces in the inner city. She had a smile as big as a half-moon, her voice was strong, and everything about her body language said, "I'm a winner!"

She recalled for the crowd how she'd launched her campaign sixteen months earlier (that was the second launching, according to my private, unofficial count of her campaign's reincarnations) on Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's farm at Pindars Corners, not far from the Binghamton airport. "I began this campaign by landing here," she said, "and I didn't want to end the campaign without coming back. . . . I could not be anywhere near as optimistic as I am without your support."

She ended her speech with what had become a trademark joke in the last two weeks, ever since she'd heard Senator Joe Lieberman say it at a union rally in Manhattan.

"This election is like driving a car," she said with the kind of friendly, expectant smile you have on your face when you're telling a funny story with an obvious punch line to an old uncle who could use a laugh. "You wanna go backwards, you put it in R. You wanna go forward, you put it in D! D for Democrat! Thank you, everybody!"

About a third of the audience—the third that was really paying attention, I guess—caught on to where the joke was going and joined in on the "put it in D" line. But all of them roared with laughter and began applauding when it was over.

Our plane was leaving in a few minutes for Buffalo, but I needed to grab some quick quotes from a few spectators. I was trying to elicit quotes about the economy, but the first three people I approached happened to be women, and something else was on their minds.

"She's smart, that's why I'm voting for her," one of them said.

"She's the president's wife, and she's done a lot of good for women," the next one said. "She's a world-class lady, and anyone with half a brain would have to vote for her."

"We need a woman. We need an intelligent woman. She's not a puppet of the good old boys," said another.

So much for the economy. These little declarations of gender pride reminded me of yet another of my colleagues' Hillary spoof-songs, this one to the tune of the seventies Helen Reddy hit "I Am Woman."

I am Hillary, hear me roar

I'm too powerful to ignore . . .

Of course, when I saw the exit polls on election day, the quotes from those women suddenly made sense. Hillary beat Lazio by twelve points—a far bigger margin than anyone had anticipated, including her staff—and she would do it largely by mobilizing women. In the final count, 60 percent of women voted for her, including 65 percent of working women, 75 percent of New York City women, and 55 percent of upstate women. The upstate vote was a particularly impressive achievement for a Democrat; she came within eighty thousand votes of beating Lazio in what is traditionally the most conservative part of the state. And she also racked up the third-highest vote total (in actual numbers of votes cast) of any Senate candidate in New York ever. Only Moynihan, in 1988, and Robert F. Kennedy—another carpetbagger—in '64, collected more votes than Hillary in 2000. But I had no idea how big her margin of victory would be as I stood in Binghamton, about to fly to Buffalo. Suddenly I saw one of Hillary's press liaisons, Karen Finney, motioning me toward the exit. I shut my notebook and sprinted out the hangar toward the turboprop.

By the time we got to our hotel in Buffalo, it was midnight. Food was waiting for us in the lobby, and as we stuffed our faces, Hillary and Chelsea arrived. Most of us were drinking beer and shoving pizza down our throats, but Hillary headed to a large basket of fruit that we had been ignoring, picked up a couple of clementines after laughingly announcing that she couldn't remember what they were called, and went upstairs.

The first event Monday morning was a rally at Buffalo State College. We got there shortly before nine. Bizarre musical selections like "Sexy Thing" were playing over the sound system; I would have thought by now Hillary's campaign would be paying more attention to background music. They'd never settled on a theme song, but had gotten in trouble when she formally announced her candidacy back in February—the fourth time she'd launched her campaign, according to my count—because a deejay had played Billy Joel's "Captain Jack" to warm the crowd up. With lyrics about masturbation and drugs, it was not the best choice. The February announcement had ended with a much more appropriate selection—Des'ree's "You Gotta Be," an up-tempo, strong-female-voiced song with a chorus that goes You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser You gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger.

That seemed like a potential campaign theme song, and it was played periodically at events throughout the year. But when I asked why it hadn't become an official campaign theme song, one of Hillary's aides looked at me as if I were an idiot and said, "You have no idea the science that goes into picking out a campaign theme song. It's very complicated." So complicated that they never figured it out.

Then, a few weeks before the election, amid a backdrop of questionable fund-raising practices like inviting campaign donors to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom and accepting $50,000 from a Muslim group that the Republicans tried to portray as less than kosher, an upstate event had featured the Donna Summer song "She Works Hard for the Money." One of Hillary's advance people had gone running to the deejay and gotten that one stopped midsong, but on the day before the election, nobody seemed bothered much by "Sexy Thing" played at earsplitting volume—nobody except those of us in the press corps who'd gotten about four hours of sleep and felt as if our brains were being electroshocked into operating mode.

The canned music gave way to a live but similarly earsplitting performance by Ten Thousand Maniacs, a band with local roots that had made it big with Natalie Merchant back in the late eighties and early nineties and then drifted into relative obscurity after Merchant began a solo career. Hillary's thank-you lines that day included this one, which sent the press corps into paroxysms of laughter: "I want to thank the Ten Thousand Maniacs for being with me this morning."

Accompanied by Chelsea, Buffalo Bill quarterback Doug Flutie, comedian Bill Cosby, and New York's other senator, Chuck Schumer, the first lady went on to give her standard stump speech, including the old "for more than thirty years" line about her devotion to children's issues, the "You wanna go forward, you put it in D" gag, and another favorite: "If you will work for me and fight for me and speak for me for the next thirty hours, I will go to the U.S. Senate and fight for you for the next six years!" I'd heard that line start about a month ago, only then it was "If you will fight for me for the next thirty days . . ." Next stop was Albany, for a rally on the City Hall steps. So many people were gathered in front of the building, behind the press area, and along the side streets that I was having a hard time estimating the crowd. Because I work for the Associated Press, my stories are sent out by computer to newspapers and broadcast outlets all over the state and often the country, and they are frequently seen by editors at these other news organizations before their reporters have turned in their own stories. As a result, AP copy—from the lead, to the quotes, to the crowd estimate, to the background material—is often used as a benchmark by editors elsewhere to compare their own stories against. I could always count on a CNN producer, Phil Hirschkorn, to ask me, when a Hillary event was over, "What's the AP lead?" He didn't necessarily need to use the same lead, but if he planned on leading with something else, he might get asked by his editor why his account differed from AP's. By asking me in advance what I saw as the news, he could prepare to argue his case.

Crowd estimates were one of the details we all tried to agree on, so that our stories wouldn't end up reporting a dozen different tallies. Some reporters had a good enough eye to just glance at a gathering of people and come up with a ballpark figure, but I didn't trust myself enough for that. Instead, I had a methodical approach: I'd count heads from left to right, then from front to back, then multiply and round off. Then, using my fingertip, I'd draw small circles in the air around every group of ten people I could see, and hope that I'd come up with the same number as my multiplication method. This event was hard to figure because I couldn't see all the areas where people were congregating. It looked to me as if it could be as high as two thousand, or as low as twelve hundred. I checked with a couple of other reporters and settled on fifteen hundred.

Back in Buffalo, Bill Cosby hadn't been very funny, but here in Albany he had a great line. "This is another joke we're gonna play on Hillary," he told the crowd. "We're gonna vote her into office!"

Then Schumer served up two of his favorites: "She's gonna win because she did it the old-fashioned way: she earned it!" and "Can we have a moment of complete silence? I want to be able to hear a pin drop, because that's the sound you're going to hear Tuesday night at Lazio headquarters!" I'd been hearing those lines for about the last week as he accompanied Hillary on the campaign trail. When he used the lines at a union rally in Manhattan, he thickened up his Brooklyn accent, pronouncing "you're going to hear" as "ya gonna hee-ah," but now that we were in Albany, with his other constituents, he'd suddenly located his dropped r's.

Finally it was Hillary's turn, and she came through with even more pumped-up confidence than before: "I'll stay with you, I'll fight for you, I'll stick with you, I'll go to the U.S. Senate and work my heart out for you!" It was as close to a victory speech as a candidate who hasn't been elected yet can make, and it was further proof that she was sure things were going her way.

The rally ended at 2 p.m. We had one hour of downtime in Albany to write and file our stories. I headed a block away to the AP's office in the capitol building. My colleagues there hooked me up to the computer, kindly fetched me a sandwich from the cafeteria, and then I started typing furiously. I had two stories to write: one for the national wire about the final day of this Senate race, a campaign that had, because it involved the first lady, been almost as closely watched as the presidential campaign; and another story for the state wire, focusing just on Hillary's last day. Time flew for the next sixty minutes, and by the time I had to get back on the campaign van, I had only managed to finish the eight hundred words for the national wire. I finished scribbling the state story in my notebook en route to Rochester, our next stop, and dictated it by cell phone to one of my colleagues back in the New York City office.

The next event, in an elementary school in a Rochester suburb called Brighton, was another mob scene, with four hundred people in the room where we were sitting, four hundred more in an adjacent room, and hundreds more outside the building. "This is the last upstate event of my campaign," Hillary told them. It was momentous, I guess, but it didn't feel that way. We were all too tired, too antsy, and too distracted to feel as if something important was happening. I'd more or less stopped taking notes; the speeches were all the same and I'd shot what little energy I had left into writing those two stories. Besides, it was 6 p.m., near-deadline time for most newspapers. Nobody would use additional copy at this hour unless it was really newsworthy—a pie in Hillary's face or the equivalent.

One of the other reporters whispered to me that the Secret Service agents who always accompanied Hillary and frequently harassed us seemed more animated than usual. Someone had heard a few of them in the hallway reviewing the procedures for removing someone from the crowd if necessary. I wondered if they expected some kind of protest and looked around the room. The only people who looked unusual in this white-bread group of middle-class suburban types were three Muslim women, standing near the back, chadors draped around their hair and shoulders. They appeared to be listening intently to Hillary's speech, clapping at the appropriate moments; they certainly didn't look as if they were planning to heckle her. I noticed one of the agents—telltale wire in his ear—hovering not far from where they were, his eyes roving in their general direction, so I positioned myself nearby, feeling slightly ashamed for honing in on them, but also wanting to make sure that I didn't miss anything in case there was news. Ever since the Daily News had three weeks earlier bashed Hillary for taking money from members of a Muslim group, anything involving Muslims and this campaign was potentially newsworthy. Hillary had returned the money, but Lazio and the state Republican Party had audaciously suggested in ads, speeches, and telephone calls to voters that the first lady was a friend to terrorists, and various Muslim organizations had complained that the tactics were racist and outrageous. It was just one of many crazy subplots that had emerged during the campaign, so complicated and bizarre that I was certain most voters didn't have a clue what it was really about. With election day hours away, it barely seemed to matter anymore, but that didn't mean I wouldn't have to be on the ball if someone wearing a chador heckled Hillary over it. So I stayed by the three women until the speech was over and felt just a little ridiculous as they applauded and filed out of the room, along with everyone else.

We got back on another van for the trip to the airport and boarded the plane for the last flight of the day, the last flight of Hillary's campaign. A few people were still typing on their laptops or dictating to their offices by cell phone; meanwhile the drama involving our pilots' uncertainty about flying into La Guardia played itself out. Finally the little plane took off, the entire cabin vibrating with the noise of the engine, and we settled back for the last round of Frank Buckley's Travel Game.

"For sixteen months, I've been talking about the issues," one person offered.

"I'm delighted that my daughter, Chelsea, could be with us today," said the next, her voice perfectly capturing Hillary's tone of maternal pride.

"What a day the Lord has made!" said someone else, using the line Hillary opened every church speech with.

"I've been to schools in New York that are among the finest in the country, but I've also been to schools that no child should attend!" That was my contribution.

"Miracles happen every day. You just have to look for them," said another person, eliciting congratulations from the rest of us for coming up with such a good one—obscure, yet familiar, and oh-so-Hillary. Then came the one we'd all been waiting for: "You wanna go backwards, you put it in R. You wanna go forward . . ."


Excerpted from The Girls in the Van by Beth J. Harpaz. Copyright © 2001 by Beth J. Harpaz. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Reading Group Guide

About the Book: The Girls in the Van is the ultimate press pass to Hillary Clinton's historic Senate run, following the first lady from the moment she dons a black pantsuit and a Yankees cap all the way to her historic victory. This book is a front-row seat in the press van as Hillary takes a "My Fair Lady" -style Yiddish lesson, invokes Harriet Tubman thirty times on a tour of black churches, and spends as much time explaining why she kissed Yassir Arafat's wife as she does justifying why she stays married to Bill. The Girls in the Van takes you on an unforgettable trip, from the ladies room at the Waldorf to the garden of the Clinton's Westchester home.

Review: "An entertaining, bouncy romp...an illuminating glimpse...Harpaz has written an honest book. The result is an insider's view of a female reporter grappling with a groundbreaking campaign." -The New York Times Book Review

Review: "Hilarious, knowing and lively." -The Washingtonian

Review: "Entertainingly frank." -The Chicago Sun-Times

Review: "Harpaz is a smart writer with a comic flair who captures the high silliness, the tedium, and the inanity of a long political campaign." -The Buffalo News

Review: "A charming, funny, gossipy account of life on the inside of a landmark campaign." -Columbia Journalism Review

Review: "Insightful, honest and funny." -Publisher's Weekly

Discussion Questions:

The author hopes that "rather than being scarred for life by the fact that I covered Hillary, my kids will look back on it as a fascinating little piece of history that they actually saw close up." Are children harmed when mothers work long hours or do they benefit from mothers with meaningful careers?

The president of Wellesley College explains Hillary's decision to run for office late in life by saying that "the rhythms of our lives are different from men's." Do you think women are more likely to change direction in midlife than men? Why?

After Hillary wins by 12 points, Harpaz wonders whether the media underreported her support. Was the media fair to Hillary? Should reporters change how they cover campaigns? Should politicians change the way they campaign?

The author describes various ethical dilemmas, such as whether she should help her mother-in-law get into a Listening Tour event, whether to accept a book from Hillary, and whether to lead with the mistake Hillary made at the gun control forum. What would you have done in each of these situations?

Why is Hillary such a polarizing figure, passionately admired by some and totally despised by others?

What do you make of Bill and Hillary's marriage?

Do you believe Hillary will run for president someday? Do you think she could win?

The author's husband tells Hillary that he and Beth are "thrilled" that Hillary won. What do you believe are the author's true feelings about Hillary?

About the Author: Beth J. Harpaz joined The Associated Press in 1988 after working for newspapers in Staten Island, N.Y., and Bergen County, N.J. She has won feature-writing awards from the New York Press Club and the Newswomen's Club of New York, and she holds degrees from Cornell University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her coverage of Hillary Clinton's campaign has appeared in newspapers all over the country, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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