WASHINGTON (AFP) — Friday's hostage-taking incident at Hillary Clinton's New Hampshire campaign office underscored why the 2008 presidential contenders have to live with tight security measures during their gruelling campaigns.
Two candidates on the 2008 campaign trail, Democrats Clinton and Barack Obama are already under the protection of the US Secret Service, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of the US president himself.
Clinton, as a former first lady, had such protection even before she hit the campaign trail, but her detail has been visibly boosted since.
Obama, who is seeking to become America's first black president, was placed under Secret Service protection in May, unusually early in the process. Candidates are more often offered Secret Service help once they become the nominee of their party, and some chafe at the highly visible wall of protection between them and their supporters.
Several sharp suited Secret Service agents trail Obama wherever he goes, even in the corridors of Congress, while he is performing his senatorial duties. When he is on the road, the protection is much more intense, mobile and visible.
When Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff authorized the protection, officials declined to say if the move was in response to any specific threats, though reprtedly there was concern about the huge crowds he was attracting, and suggestions that racially motivated threats had appeared on some websites.
In 2004, prospective Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and John Edwards his eventual vice presidential pick were accorded Secret Service protection nine months before voters went to the polls.
Secret Service agents are also seen on the campaign trail around former president Bill Clinton, who frequently stumps for his wife.
Other 2008 presidential candidates are yet to be offered Secret Service protection, though several appear to be accompanied by privately employed private security guards on the road.
While candidates are protected, their field offices sprinkled throughout key states, are clearly vulnerable, as was shown by Friday's incident.
Most field offices are small, provided with only rudimentary furnishings and often staffed by young people and students who are either volunteers or get a tiny stipend. By definition they are open, and in the heart of communities which candidates are trying to court for votes.
The main showpiece events of the presidential campaigns, the party conventions, a few months before the November general elections, have become, even before the attacks on September 11, 2001, fortresses.
The price of secret service protection is astronomical, as a candidate usually has several shifts of agents traveling with him or her on gruelling cross-country campaign swings, requiring food and lodging as well as sophisticated security measures, vehicles and communications equipment.
Some estimates in the media put the daily bill for a candidate of Obama's magnitude at up to 45,000 dollars a day, sending the cost of protection for multiple candidates in a campaign into the tens of millions of dollars.
The Secret Service has already made clear that the campaign is imposing a strain on its personnel and operations.
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