Obama's Mississippi Morning
By Peter Slevin
GREENVILLE, Miss. -- On the day of the Mississippi primary, Sen. Barack Obama made his final pitch at a no-frills restaurant called Buck's, where he asked for prayers as well as votes -- and pledged to return to the Mississippi Delta as president.
He also ordered breakfast: Grits, turkey sausage and wheat toast. He asked for eggs "scrambled hard."
Obama expects to win Mississippi easily, notching his second win in four days after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton cut short his 11-state victory streak last week with wins in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island. Before the polls closed, he jetted to Pennsylvania, site of the nation's next primary, for a town hall meeting at a wind turbine plant.
At Buck's, Obama spent a few minutes on his feet naming a half-dozen issues he cares about -- economic development, green energy, health care, education, infrastructure development. He promised to listen to voters even after he is elected, then pivoted quickly.
"So, I'm very proud of all of you. I thank you so much, Now I think I should have some grits."
S.B. Buck, the apron-wearing proprietor, called out, "Turkey sausage? Ham? Bacon?"
Obama: "I think maybe some turkey sausage, some grits."
Buck: "How do you want your eggs?"
Obama: "Scrambled hard. Wheat toast."
Buck's is a diner tucked into a down-at-the-heel strip mall, two doors up from Fast Tax, four doors down from the Washington County Work Center, where signs on the wall say, "Do the crime, pay the fine or work the time!!"
Buck counted himself an Obama fan from the start. Shooting the breeze before Obama arrived from a predawn workout at the YMCA, Buck said he likes the Illinois senator's "attitude to solving problems" and "the ability to pull young people together, the group that we've not fathered into politics."
He painted Greenville as "a real political town" that he described as 70 percent black, with a relatively recent history of electing African American politicians, including the mayor, Heather McTeer Hudson, who accompanied Obama.
At age 60, after living in Greenville for 35 years, Buck is a black man who remembers when things were different.
Asked about Obama propelling his campaign as far as he has, he said, "You can't believe it. It's the greatest thing since salt."
Buck believes the assaults on Obama from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and former president Bill Clinton are "very dirty tricks. I am surprised at some of the tactics that they're using...I think they did more to put people in his corner than to take them out."
He said he loved Bill Clinton -- "He's the first black president we ever had" -- and thinks he would "run the White House" if Hillary Clinton were elected. But he figures the Clintons have already had their chance: "I think one time for a family is enough."
Jimmy McAlpine, 47, is a USDA employee who had the fortune -- good or ill -- to stop at Buck's for a ham sandwich before work, only to discover the place crawling with local pols and reporters waiting to see Obama. He decided to stick around for the show.
He voted for Bill Clinton in the '90s, but said, "I always voted for the lesser of two evils. I never was a Hillary and Bill fan." He said Obama is a candidate he can get excited about. The first thing he mentioned was his view that Obama got right with the world after he "made some bad decisions when he was younger, some immature decisions."
McAlpine believes Obama has not gotten personal or negative toward Clinton, and he hopes it stays that way. He thinks Obama attacks would not come across as authentic, and would come back to hurt him.
"If you put other people first, your blessings will come back to you. That's the way I've always seen it," McAlpine said. "A lot of people try to be other people and they get caught up in bad situations. When you're not yourself, you get hurt. What's in the heart of a person always shows."
Outside, Leslie Wise, who described herself as a weight nutritionist, was a lot less sure. She had not yet voted and was leaning toward Clinton, whom she considers more experienced and able to move the country. Her main issue is the Iraq war and the soldiers overseas: "I want to bring them home."
"With his background, is he going to be able to move the United States? Has he been in power long enough to pull off the support he needs?" Wise, 40, asked. She wants a president who "can pull the United States back to a time of peace and tranquility and the economy."
Obama may have closed the door on idea of running as Clinton's vice president one day earlier in Columbus and Jackson, but Wise volunteered that she likes that idea just fine: "That would be a good team. I would rather have her as president, him as vice president. She has a little more run of the mill than he do, a little bit more experience."
As Obama finished breakfast and waded into a cheering throng gathered on the sidewalk, he shouted, "I just want to ask something. Have you voted yet?"
He was greeted with loud calls of "Yes!"
"If you haven't voted," Obama said, "you have to vote now."
Someone called out, "We need some jobs!"
"I promise when I'm president of the United States, I'll come back to the Delta," Obama said to cheers. "You all keep me in your prayers, now."
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