WESTCHESTER, N.Y. — It was after 9 p.m. when Hillary Clinton stepped off her campaign plane into the pouring rain in Westchester. She had just finished a packed Thursday in North Carolina — a stadium-sized rally with Michelle Obama, a stop by a voting site in Greensboro, and a brief speech at a historically black college.
And in just 12 hours, she would find herself heading back to this same airport to fly to Iowa. But instead of staying out on the road in one of those critical battleground states, she’d chosen to return here, to this tony enclave about an hour north of New York City.
Since the debut of her official campaign plane on Labor Day, there have been full weeks when she has campaigned every day in a swing state — Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and North Carolina — and returned to her home every single night in between. In total, she has spent a little over half a dozen nights on the road.
Instead of more efficient campaign trips, she has prioritized ending her days surrounded by the creature comforts of her own homes — either her farmhouse in Chappaqua or her brick Georgian-style mansion in Washington, D.C.
In a campaign of unprecedented contrasts, it is one of the most striking similarities between Clinton and Donald Trump. Here are two well-to-do New Yorkers who add hours of travel to their schedules, and thousands of dollars to their campaign expenses, in order to avoid sleeping in the Middle America they promise they are running to represent. For Clinton, it marks a contrast from how she ran during the primary, or even during her post-convention bus tour when she stayed on the road during stops across Ohio and Pennsylvania. For Trump, it’s a continuation of a strategy that has been in place since Day One.
“They should be focused more on talking to voters rather than worrying about how comfortable the bed is that they’re sleeping in,” said Lanhee Chen, who served as a top policy adviser for Mitt Romney in 2012 and noted that Romney, a multimillionaire in his own right, rarely returned to his homes during the final months of the presidential campaign four years ago.
But for Trump, near-nightly returns to Manhattan — from as far west as Reno, Nevada — mean a chance to sleep in his marble-and-gold hued 66th floor penthouse in Trump Tower. For Clinton, the hops to Chappaqua allow her to spread out in her colonial five-bedroom home, complete with 1.1 acres of land and a swimming pool.
Even when Trump doesn’t return to Manhattan, he almost always overnights in one of his many other properties: the sumptuous Mar-a-Lago in Florida, the exclusive, private Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, or his Trump-branded hotels in Chicago, Miami and Las Vegas. Through Saturday, only four nights in October had Trump not slept in a bed that he or one of his companies owned.
Take the day of the second debate. Both candidates began in New York and jetted to St. Louis. They debated there. Then they both beat a path from the stage back to the airport, where their planes were parked next to one another, en route to New York where both landed past midnight.
Clinton didn’t deplane in Westchester until nearly 2 a.m.
Campaign veterans say this is all highly unusual, and speaks to the odd dynamics of this year’s race. Plenty of past candidates, even wealthy ones, have suffered the indignities of motel and Marriott living while fighting to win the highest office in the world. Just not these two.
“Generally, one or two nights a week he’d be in Chicago to see his family,” said Eric Lesser, who served as a traveling aide for then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. “Everyone on that campaign has every Hampton Inn and Hilton Garden and Marriott Courtyard in all of America memorized. It was constant motion.”
The detours back to New York would amount to political malpractice in any other cycle — except that both candidates are doing it. Traditionally, a candidate’s time is viewed as the single most precious commodity in any race.
“To get him home every night would have cost a lot of money and wasn’t a good use of campaign resources,” said Ryan Williams, a traveling Romney aide four years ago. “The majority of his nights in 2012 were spent in hotels in various swing states.”
As for Clinton, Williams said, “I get the sense that her campaign thinks they’ve already won.” Clinton’s campaign operatives say they are always trying to run scared — but they have also focused on giving a candidate, whose schedule is packed with rallies and private high-dollar fundraisers, rest where she can get it.
Clinton has pointed her plane back to New York from as far away as Ohio and Florida. Trump’s refusal to abide by traditional political norms has been one of the guiding principles of his campaign.
The insistence on extra flights to Chappaqua and Manhattan is also costing taxpayers — likely hundreds of thousands of additional dollars. That’s because the U.S. Secret Service reimburses campaigns for their share of seats on the candidates’ planes. And with numerous agents aboard, taxpayers are picking up the tab for a significant portion of the costs.
Through the end of September, Trump’s and Clinton’s campaigns had been reimbursed a combined more than $5.4 million by the Secret Service, federal records show. Trump’s campaign reported a $405,790 payment from the Secret Service just in September for air travel and, because a Trump-owned company operates his plane, he is indirectly receiving those funds himself.
The Clinton and Trump campaigns did not respond to requests for comment for this story, and neither did the Secret Service.
Trump’s insistence on staying in his home is not new. During the primaries, he made waves in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire for refusing for months to overnight there as rivals stayed in far-afield motels in Sioux City and Decorah.
Trump finally did sleep in Iowa, days before the caucuses in late January, at a Holiday Inn Express in Sioux Center. “Good mattress, staff was great, good mattress, good everything,” was his review.
But he was soon back to his Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago ways. On the Thursday before the New Hampshire primary, Trump insisted on flying back to New York after campaigning during the day, arriving one night after 1 a.m. and then having to cancel a town hall in Londonderry the next morning because snow wouldn’t allow him to fly back.
In the past two weeks, Trump and Clinton appear to be finally staying on the road, at least a little bit more. Trump woke up last Saturday in Colorado. Clinton, after a “get out the vote” concert headlined by Jennifer Lopez in Miami, stayed overnight in Florida and on Tuesday night she was scheduled to stay in Fort Lauderdale.
But on Tuesday morning, with exactly one week before the election both woke up in their own bed rather than a battleground.
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