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What Is a Campaign Bus?

Candidates for public office will use a campaign bus to meet voters.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 March 2014
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A campaign bus is a mobile office that supports a candidate or issue during a political campaign. Often, candidates will ride in campaign buses with support staff as a means of traveling around the voting area to give speeches and attract support. To many, a campaign bus offers a nostalgic image that dates back to the days when candidates traveled across states and countries by train in order to get the word out about themselves and their issues. Today, highly-funded candidates and issues organizations often own campaign buses filled with top of the line technology and furnishings, leading some to believe that the nostalgia is simply wishful thinking.

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Before motorized transportation became the norm, politicians would often travel throughout the voting region by train, undertaking a “whistle stop” tour. At each station, the politician or his representatives would give speeches, hold debates, or hand out campaign literature. Before television and radio, this was often the only chance citizens got to see and hear a candidate speak out loud; crowds would often flood the station on the anticipated day of arrival, excited to finally get a glimpse of the political figure only known from newspapers and letters from friends. In 1948, Harry Truman undertook perhaps the most famous whistle stop tour, traveling by train to convince citizens to re-elect him as the US President. Many were charmed by Truman’s choice to use a blue-collar means of transportation rather than a luxury car or airplane; some experts consider this campaign strategy a major factor in his re-election.

After train travel became impractical for cross-country and state elections, campaign buses provided a cheap and easy means for candidates to get from one speech or event to the next. By renting a bus, a candidate could travel with family and staff from town to town or state to state in an efficient and relatively inexpensive manner. Today, many campaign buses carry a carnival air similar to those found on music tour buses. Key staff, celebrity endorsers, journalists, and even entertainers may travel on the campaign bus, ready to make each stopping location an event to remember.

By keeping campaign staff in one vehicle, a campaign bus can serve as a movable headquarters for a political bid. Many campaign buses have office-like features and include wireless Internet connections so that work can continue on the road. The flexibility of a campaign bus is also greatly beneficial to many political campaigns; if polling data or new developments require a change in event or speech scheduling, it is often far easier to reroute a bus than a plane or network of cars.

Some campaign buses embark upon tours to tout issues, rather than candidates. Using the same model of convenience and flexibility, issue buses can cover large territories in a few days or weeks, stopping at villages, towns, and cities to hold promotional events. Campaign buses often prove useful in areas that feature rural or spread-out populations; since airplanes require a landing strip or airport, they are frequently only able to reach larger population centers. A bus can easily travel from town to town, making small town citizens feel just as important and valuable to politics as larger cities.

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