June 27, 2008

Obama, Clinton Won’t Leave Them Laughing

Remember Bill Richardson? He sure had a good sense of humor. So did John McCain, at least back when he was the underdog. Mike Huckabee was all about making voters chuckle, even those who would never even consider voting for him. Some candidates - Mike Gravel and Ron Paul spring to mind - got laughs even when they weren't trying.

But Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? Successful at the polls, perhaps, but no one would have mistaken these two policy wonks for the jokesters of the New Hampshire presidential primary.

Nonetheless, nearly six months after the local vote, Obama and Clinton return today, going to extreme lengths for a corny gag.

They're coming to Unity, N.H. - get it? Unity? It's a place where they split the local Democratic vote, 107-107. It's a place so far out in the boondocks that voters and reporters will require shuttle buses from Sunapee, for Pete's sake. (Who said "You can't get there from here"? Might have been a Unity selectman.)

Kids who take piano lessons often hear this tired joke from their dads:

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? A: Practice.

There's now a Democratic version of that joke:

Q: How do you get to Unity? A: Conciliatory speeches, campaign debt relief and a long, tricky drive through western New Hampshire.

Sorry, Michigan, but it's true.

Obama's campaign chose Unity for the first joint appearance for Clinton, part of their "Unite for Change" tour. The idea is partly to convince diehard Clinton supporters to switch their allegiance to Obama for the fall campaign against McCain. Clinton will no doubt assure her supporters that the only chance they now have of electing a president who cares about what they do - abortion rights, vigorous environmental policy, an end to the war - is to elect Obama. It shouldn't be a hard case to make.

In fact, the message is really more for a national audience than for the assembled masses in Unity this afternoon. For while Clinton prevailed in the New Hampshire primary, her supporters here seemed less like Obama-haters than those elsewhere in the country.

Back in the snowy first-in-the-nation campaign, there were lots of candidates to like. And despite the stray remark from Bill Clinton or Bill Shaheen, the tenor of the race was still largely civil.

Obama's real concern in purple New Hampshire is not bitter Clintonistas but the independent voters here who have long swooned for McCain. For even as voters turn their attention to the poor economy, they are nonetheless concerned about the war. Many see McCain as more prepared to deal with Iraq, Afghanistan and trouble- spots around the globe.

Even four electoral votes count, and Obama sure can't take New Hampshire for granted. He seems to know it too: Just yesterday, his wife Michelle was in Manchester, hobnobbing with U.S. Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen and star-struck Democrats.

We're happy to see them. And if Obama likes Unity, we're sure we could sell him on more groan-producing locales for future appearances.

Where should he announce his vice-presidential running mate? What about Union, N.H.? A speech about religious tolerance in Temple (or Bethlehem)? Foreign affairs in Lisbon? A Fourth of July event in Freedom? The cold hard truth in Stark? Halloween in Orange?

Maybe it was better when Obama, and the rest of us, weren't trying quite so hard for a giggle.

Originally published by Monitor staff.

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