Obama Scores an Old Bull
Patrick Leahy sees visions of JFK and RFK.
Slate's chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, is reporting from South Carolina this week. In addition to his stories, he'll be filing Twitter updates and dispatches about life on the road. You can also follow his travels on the map below. Also, check out John’s past travels in Iowa and all the candidates' whereabouts on " Map the Candidates."
Columbia, S.C., 11:00 a.m.:I've interrupted writing about Mitt Romney to dial in to an Obama conference call. This is the Patrick Leahy endorsement conference call, not the conference call later in the day where Nevada allies will respond to Clinton campaign attacks on Obama's views on Yucca Mountain.
Leahy says he's picking Obama because America "is a good and a great nation" and that Obama can "restore respect for the country. He can reintroduce America to the world and reintroduce America to ourselves." He respects the other candidates but likes Obama's message of hope more.
I ask, given his experience in Washington, what specific problem he thinks Obama can solve by bringing people together. It's one of the candidate's signature points, and I just wonder how it would work out in practice on issues like judicial appointments or education or health-care policy. There's a lot of vagueness to the Obama magic, and I'd love to hear someone articulate one specific about how he might be able to bridge the problem areas that have stopped progress before. Just a little, small example is all I want.
I don't really get an answer to my question. Leahy names some issues Obama has worked on—from foreign affairs to voter rights legislation—and says senators from both parties like to get his views. He then makes a better historical case: "When I was the youngest prosecutor in the country in my twenties and Senator Robert Kennedy was running for president, the establishment was going for a different candidate. I supported Kennedy. I knew what he was doing with people in my age category. He was giving us hope and a sense of being together. Those are intangibles, but it encouraged me to go against many of the people in my state. When I was in college, I supported John Kennedy. … We heard about the great experience of Lyndon Johnson, but I never questioned my commitment to John Kennedy." (permalink)
Jan. 16, 2008
Columbia, S.C., 7:30 p.m.: The stage is set for Mitt Romney's arrival. "Washington Is Broken," reads a blue sign with white lettering heralding the candidate's new message. Also prominently displayed is the to-do list of items Romney promises he'll tackle once in office. Among the 13 items are "Fix Social Security" and "End Illegal Immigration." The last two slots are blank because, says Mitt, he's looking for suggestions from voters on what else he'll do.
Romney is late. The ballroom I'm in at the University of South Carolina is filled with students. Some of the boys have the tell-tale round marks of dip cans in their back pockets. One young man spits his tobacco into an empty water bottle. I could horrify my colleagues by asking for a pinch.
The group doesn't all seem to be Romney supporters. This is quickly confirmed by the two Edwards supporters standing right in front of me. It is further confirmed when an organizer tries to get some chants going. One side of the room is supposed to yell "Mitt," and the other side is supposed to yell "Rocks." They bat it back a few times but can't get enough people to cheer much louder than the U2 playing on the PA system. Ten people are cheering, and even they peter out quickly. The staffers whoop and cheer as if they are topping off a frenzied crescendo. Another chant starts: "Go, Mitt, Go." It disappears as quickly as it arrives. "Let's Go Mitt" also fails. Staffers keep trying but the flame does not ignite. Item 15 on the to-do List: no more cheers.
Romney is now a half-hour late, and mischief-makers try a "Where's Mitt?" call and response. But when the candidate finally does arrive, he's very well-received. He looks tired because he hasn't gotten much sleep since his big Michigan win, and he's also a little sick. His youngest son, Craig, and Craig's wife stand on stage along with their 1-year-old son. "You wanna come see Papa?" says Romney, picking up the boy effortlessly and without artifice. He holds him for a while looking completely comfortable and natural—words that are not readily associated with the candidate. The campaign should make the little moment as regular as hanging the to-do list. (permalink)