I first met Barack Obama at a sparsely attended press conference for Deval Patrick in October 2006. I saw him electrify an audience at the JFK Library and witnessed his first big appearance in New Hampshire in early December. I was there in Concord when Obama stood by his vow to meet the president of Iran during his first year in office. “We don’t need Bush-Cheney Lite,” he said as the crowd erupted in cheers. Even when this became an issue in the debates with McCain, nobody told McCain Obama ever said that.
I heard him implore Massachusetts to vote for him with Caroline Kennedy and Ted Kennedy at his side the night before the primary. He lost but he did not lose his cool.
I saw his last appearance with foreign policy aide Samantha Power. Obama seemed to love her energy but his staffers kept reeling her in.
I was one of the few writers to spend an extended period of time with Joe Biden, who gave me time after a book talk at Borders in downtown Boston. In an odd juxtaposition from four years earlier, I waited for Biden with the BPPA’s leadership team.
I attended scores of Hillary Clinton speeches and watched her campaign of inevitability devolve into desperation. I saw her fight back as the NH primary approached. I was in the room when two goons got up during one of her speeches shouting “Iron My Shirt! Iron My Shirt!”
I covered the Pennsylvania primary before Obama had figured out how to capture the votes of blue collar whites (or before the economy entirely went south.) I saw a Bill Clinton, reduced to giving 25 minute speeches in out-of-the-way venues, rev up the crowd in Millvale, PA. I interviewed Senator Casey of Pennsylvania who assured me Obama would win over enough Catholic voters to become president.
On the Republican side, I began by following Mitt Romney around New Hampshire. I saw Rudy Giuliani take brief interest and lose it in the Granite State. While he started to resonate in July, his big tour across Southern New Hampshire was a bust. The lasting image is of his gaggle of stilettoed press aides shoeing away the media, including David Broder who subsequently slammed Giuliani in the Washington Post.
McCain began his presidential campaign in Portsmouth at a highly orchestrated event right on the river with just one problem. The t.v. cameras could not shoot over the big speakers McCain’s people had set up. I called around NH when McCain hit his low point. McCain would win NH on his own, his supporters said. And they were right. I was with McCain the night he won NH and killed the campaign of Mitt Romney. The campaign blared Chuck Berry’s “Go Johnny Go!” How is this guy going to compete with Obama and his U2 “City of Blinding Light?” I thought.
I was there in Denver when Obama made everything in his campaign bigger and pulled it off.