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Posted by on Oct 20, 2008 in Politics | 4 comments

Switching Cities with Obama

Over the just-past weekend, Sen. Obama made a campaign stop in my hometown of St. Louis, attracting his largest U.S. rally crowd to date.

My wife and I missed the hooplah. While Obama was in St. Louis, we were in his adopted hometown of Chicago, visiting our son. We arrived Friday, the day the news broke that the Republican-leaning Chicago Tribune had endorsed Obama for President.

That same evening, we dined with our son, his roommates, and several of his roommates’ parents. Counting residents of both coasts and the heartland — from the solidly-Democratic states of California and New York to the Missouri bellwether — the table was almost flawlessly pro-Obama, with the possible exception of one of our son’s roommates, who hails from Austin, Texas, the bluest city in a crimson-red state. (Parentless for the weekend, this roommate — quiet and withdrawn by nature — did not share his presidential views, though we understand his family is deeply religious and conservative, and for those reasons, we doubted he would be voting for the Senator from Illinois, if he voted at all.)

Among the assembled parents, there was considerable concern that our sons had not yet received their absentee ballots, for which they had all dutifully applied over the summer. In an election of this importance, where the turnout of new voters could be a decisive factor, none of us wanted the votes of our sons to be missed.

As food settled and beer lightly numbed the day’s edge, the father from New York expressed another concern: He had read somewhere that, if Obama wasn’t up by at least 10-points in the polls going into November 4, his lead could evaporate quickly due to potential fraud at the polls, like the situations suspected in Florida in 2000 and rumored in Ohio in 2004.

Later, as the plates were being cleared and the bill presented, I mentioned that our family wanted to find a movie theater to watch the new Oliver Stone film, “W,” which opened that night.

The father and son from New York said they’d like to join us. A few minutes later — with directions from the kid from California, whose uncle lives in Chicago and whose mother spends considerable time visiting the city — we set out together on a walk of five-or-so blocks to the theater.

We arrived at 7:40 p.m., only to find that the 8:05 p.m. showing of “W” was sold out, with the next showing not scheduled to start until much later. None of us wanted to stay up that late. So we scanned the board for other options. As politically interested as we are, my son and I are also fans of action movies — the more explosions and slow-motion special effects, the better — so we convinced his mother to join us for the 8:30 p.m. showing of “Max Payne,” the Mark Wahlberg-helmed movie born from a gruesomely-violent video game. (The father and son from New York opted out for reasons unspoken — perhaps their movie preferences were less diverse or less pedestrian than ours.)

As my wife and son headed into the theater to secure seats, I took their orders and headed for the snack counter. Standing in line, I heard two 20-something men behind me arguing over their preferred presidential candidates. I couldn’t resist, turned, and with forefinger thumping my chest, said, “Long-time Republican voting for Obama.”

The pro-Obama man smile and said, “Alright.” The face of the pro-McCain man contorted as he exhaled a disappointed, “What?” and proceeded to rattle off the reasons he preferred McCain. I stopped him mid-sentence. To demonstrate that there was likely nothing he could say that I hadn’t already considered, I pointed out that I was voting when he and his friend were children, and that I had cast my first presidential vote for Ronald Reagan. That time, they both smiled, and Mr. Pro-McCain said of Reagan, “Well, now, that was a great man.”

I turned back to face the counter. The woman in front of me had turned to listen to my impromptu political exchange. She smiled and said, “No way I’m voting for McCrazy.”

“To be fair,” I said, “I’ve long respected McCain, especially the McCain of eight years ago.”

“Oh, me, too,” she said. “But not this time. He’s just too … all over the board.”

Sunday, as my wife and I headed back to St. Louis, I knew I could not and should not read too much into Friday’s impromptu focus groups. Sure, those focus groups plus Colin Powell’s endorsement; doubts about McCain voiced by other pro-Republican figures; the Tribune’s endorsement (and the endorsements of other conservative-leaning papers); Obama’s record-setting reception in St. Louis — taken together, these various signs make it difficult to believe Obama could lose.

But then I remember several other things: the narrow differential in Gallup’s tracking poll using its traditional methodology for likely voters (past behavior plus current intent); the delays in absentee ballots reaching our son and his roommates; the vote-tampering concerns (justified or not) expressed by the father from New York; the impact of insinuation-laden robocalls during the next two weeks. Add it all up, and I quickly gain a new appreciation for the words of caution expressed by both Sen. Obama and one of his prominent supporters, Congressman Rahm Emanuel:

… the Illinois Democrat has been warning his supporters against any sensations of giddiness. “I’ve been in these positions before when we were favored and the press starts getting carried away and we end up getting spanked,” Obama said at a recent fundraising breakfast.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), who is backing Obama, said the worst thing any campaign can do is be presumptuous …

For those reasons and more, we’ll be helping our son bird-dog his absentee ballot, and this Saturday I’ll devote at least a couple hours to my third-round of canvassing on behalf of the Senator from Illinois. If that tired old saying — about it not being over ’til it’s over — ever had meaning, it does now.