One political figure I haven’t seen much of this election season is Bill Clinton. He was stumping last night in Portland.
Mr. Clinton spoke at length about the economy but near the end of his remarks hinted at the consequences of a lack of experience on the part of a candidate. “Sometime in the next first 12 to 24 months, something’s going to happen that we’re not talking about,” Mr. Clinton said, noting that nobody asked the current president or his opponent, Vice President Gore, about a number of crises when they were running.
“No one asked them about 9/11, no one asked them about Katrina, no one asked them what are you going to do if Benazir Bhutto is tragically killed and Pakistan is a nuclear power…but when those things happen you have got to deal with them and if you don’t they will sweep you away.”
The argument was reminiscent of one made by Mr. Clinton’s 1992 opponent, George H.W. Bush, who in the 1992 campaign asked American voters at a debate “if in the next 5 minutes a television announcer came on and said, there is a major international crisis — there is a major threat to the world or in this country a major threat — my question is, who, if you were appointed to name 1 of the 3 of us, who would you choose?”
The whole notion of campaigning in Portland in February has taken the whole Maine establishment by surprise. I myself was convinced that the days of covering presidential events in New England would be done on January 8, now we’re almost a month past this date. Clinton himself was unprepared for a trip to Maine. He wore a light olive suit and took a trip to L.L. Bean before his speech.
For an event like the Maine caucuses, you have to dig down into details few of us are aware of. For example, In an election year that has pitted key Democratic constituencies against each other, with women and Latinos supportive of Mrs. Clinton and African-Americans for Mr. Obama, an unlikely ethnic group may emerge to make the difference in the caucuses, the largely blue collar French Canadian population which inhabits the aging mill towns of Maine’s interior, such as Biddeford, Saco and Westbrook.
“The key will be Franco-American Democrats, who tend to be conservative Democrats,” Christian Potholm, a Bowdoin professor, told me. “If they desert Clinton and go to Obama that would be a huge story.”