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Last Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Gill's Ohio diary...

Gillian Hargreaves

02 November 19:50

The weather has turned in Ohio.

Out: the crisp blue skies of autumn. In: the dull, muzzly -grey rain one sadly associates with home.

However, this has not been allowed to get in the way of filming opportunities for the Politics Show.

No siree.

Because the republicans might be on their uppers in this state, but they have a secret weapon, and we've been allowed to film her.

She's in Hilliard.

Hilliard is a small town where I'm absolutely certain nothing exciting has ever happened, or will happen again.

It's all white, wooden houses, with kid's bikes and abandoned pumpkins in the yard.

But something exciting is stirring in the woodshed today, because Laura Bush is coming to town.

Now in my time I've seen a few politicians.

Indeed, I followed President Clinton around Ireland many years ago and memorably caught site of the back of Hillary Clinton's hair for a nanosecond as she was whipped out of a hotel in Belfast.

But this is the first time I've been in the same room as a First Lady, and quite frankly it's dead exciting.

When we arrive, the place is saturated with secret servicemen.

Secret of course, they are not.

Tall, athletic-looking, dark suits.

Ladies in Ohio

You could believe them to be Jehovah's Witnesses, but the highly polished shoes, curly wires coming from their ears - and the lack of a copy of WatchTower is a dead give away.

They look a bit scary actually.

We are told that once they sweep the room we will not be allowed to move anywhere without an escort.

Even to the toilet.

Which is a bit worrying because we'll be standing up for three hours before the First Lady arrives.

But bored we are not, because plenty of entertainment has been laid on.

There's a colour party of war veterans.

War vets in Ohio

One old soldier can do some very impressive things with an ornamental rifle.

There's the choir of retired singers who entertain us with a medley of songs including God Bless America and Mine Eyes have seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord.

And there was Grove City High School Christian band.

Their repertoire included Hail to the Chief, and rather oddly, Jesus Christ Super Star.

But we Politics show tri-tet of myself, Nicola the producer, and our Cameraman Martin, sang along.

We love a Lloyd Webber on this show.

The audience was of course wholly American, and wholly untouched by the fear of appearing an exhibitionist in a public place.

There's no way you'd get a bunch of retired Brits at a Tory or Labour party rally dressed in spangled, starry, red, white and blue waistcoats.

But here...

Ladies in Ohio

And then there was a flurry of excitement... the Republican candidate came on stage and next to her, stepped up the very familiar figure of Laura Bush.

She looked serene, and nodded and smiled endearingly whenever anyone mentioned her husband - it was quite touching actually.

Well put it this way the crowd loved her.

But then we had to creep away.

Accompanied to the door by the FBI.

But yikes!

I needed to answer a call of nature.

I dropped my bag and asked the secret serviceman if he had to come too.

He looked absolutely shocked and astonished.

Then he smiled. "Only if you want me to mam," he said.

It was mortifying.

Gillian Hargreaves in Ohio

I dread to think what he said at the security debrief.

They must think British people are a bit odd around Hilliard county, Ohio.

31 October 2006 01:53

So we are here.

After a delayed and bumpy flight we finally arrived in Columbus at 9.30 local time on Saturday night.

We picked up the hired tank, which is an SUV of such proportions I fear we may not leave a carbon footprint by driving it, but more of a carbon crater.

It seems slightly off to be driving the big red beast across virtually empty freeways and at little more than 50 miles an hour.

Still it has presence - which is exactly what the Politics Show is all about.

We spent today gathering our first interviews, and first up, a visit to the state capitol building. A sort of White House in miniature.

We spoke to a college professor who explained the mid term elections might spell the end of American voters' love affair with conservative politics.

Then this afternoon we headed out of town to interview some steel workers who have lost their jobs.

Their plight will be familiar... their company has worked out it can set up factories in China and make their goods more cheaply.

Gillian Hargreaves in Ohio

They are utterly disenchanted with the Bush government, telling me that as far as they are concerned the Republicans are only interested in serving the interests of the rich... and multi-national corporations.

It was an illuminating insight into the rough end of capitalism, these guys don't get strike pay and have too much money saved (and are too proud) to try to claim welfare.

They thought they had jobs for life, now they find themselves on the scrap heap in America's Rust Belt.

Tomorrow, we go to the well-heeled end of town, to find out why Republican supporters are disenchanted with the party.

More to follow soon... cheers - Gill

27 October 2006 14:55

Columbus Ohio is 3,866 miles from Westminster.

I know this because I've just looked it up. It's a long, long way from Westminster.

It's also a fair distance from Washington, which is one of the reasons why we are going there.

The other reason is that Columbus is what clever political strategists like to call a "bell-weather" state. Which means Ohio, when it votes, tends to mirror the rest of the United States.

Almost every time they've had a presidential election in the past 100 years, Ohio has voted for the winning president.

Gillian driving

With that sort of track record, political journalists are keeping an eye on Ohio in these mid term elections.

There's every chance the state might turn Democrat and turn away from George Bush's Republican party.

If that's repeated across the country... it could be meltdown for Republicans.

Preparations for our trip have been gathering apace.

I've bought a guidebook, Nicola my producer has acquired a map.

She's also hired a four wheel drive, so we can do a sort of Politics Show Road Trip. I'm a bit anxious about this, because I drive a very old Polo at home, but Nicola assures me all will be well, and that Americans are polite drivers.

We will see.

We've been in the office late into the evening all this week trying to coincide with Ohio office hours.

It seems as though we've rung every evangelical preacher, high-school mom, and Iraqi war veteran in the state.

We've also chased press officers, political pundits , and reporters from the local paper.

By turns, they are flattered and confused by our interest.

"What? You're coming all the way from London to cover our election", is a typical response.

The reporters have requested we bring over some teabags. The Christians have asked me what Tony Blair's view on stem cell research is.

We'll be based in Columbus, the state capital.

Apparently it has a "must see" German quarter, a Topiary Garden and, well to be honest not much else.

Can't wait.

Gillian and the team

Seemingly the bratwurst is to die for and the local pudding is a half pound cream puff - called a Buckeye.

In the best Reithian spirit to inform and entertain, I'll try to eat one and provide a comprehensive report for you.

It's also going to be very cold. We've discussed the weather at length.

Apparently it's already snowing over there and minus something at night.

I've bought a puffy down jacket just in case. So you can bet your bottom dollar it'll turn warm again this week.

Tata for now... Gill

Join Jon Sopel and guests for the Politics Show on Sunday 05 November 2006 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.

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