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Three Memories

For campaigns, Election Day is frantic. For so many others, it involves waiting… and waiting, and hoping for some scrap of information.

I’ve been getting ready for tonight, but also thinking about an amazing two years and trips to (if I count right) 28 states. Three memories seem particularly relevant to today.

My first visit to Obama headquarters in Chicago came in July 2007. I was struck by the sense that it was a gathering of happy warriors -- even though they were not the favorites. It was, even then, a very young crowd and already quite obviously tech savvy. One of the people behind Facebook, who had signed up with Obama, told me of their plans. Also, maybe they were putting on a good show, but the Obama folks really seemed to get along and like each other. I had the feeling they would manage to avoid some of the public infighting that can cripple a campaign. That turned out to be true.

On the day of my visit, the Democrats were battling over Obama’s statement in a debate that he would negotiate without precondition with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea. Hillary Clinton thought Obama’s position was "irresponsible and frankly naive." Obama said Clinton was simply echoing "Bush administration policy." I thought at the time that whatever the merits of their respective arguments, Obama was shrewd to get to Clinton’s dovish side, given the anti-war orientation of Democratic primary voters.

The second memory is of a conversation with two young organizers for John McCain at a restaurant in Manchester, N.H., in November 2007. One of them was Jim Barnett, the candidate's New Hampshire state director, who was simply relieved that McCain was still around, having survived after so many in the media had pronounced his candidacy dead. What struck me that night was a sense of idealism and commitment on the part of the young McCainiacs. They were not unlike the young Obama folks you ran into regularly. Barnett persuaded me that McCain really was coming back -- and I’m glad he did, because he was right. The McCain campaigning back then was the Straight Talk Express guy freed from the constraints of too many consultants and any worries about preserving front-runner status. I have wondered this fall what would have happened if he had continued in that mode, with less spin and consulting, more free-form idealism. But it was not to be.

The third memory is more recent: a Sarah Palin rally in Shippensburg, Pa, last week. My experience there was quite different from the angrier rallies we saw on television. Oh sure, there was a lot of booing. But at least the Palin supporters in my vicinity were warm and welcoming, even to a columnist for the liberal media. (I wanted to tell them that my colleagues should not be attacked as liberals, but that I deserved it if they were in the mood.) During her speech, Palin slammed the "liberal media" at four separate points. A Republican standing nearby seemed to feel for me. He leaned over and whispered, “I’m sorry she’s hitting you so hard.” It was a lovely act of cross-ideological solidarity not much seen during this campaign. Perhaps it’s a sign of the unity we’ll start experiencing tomorrow.

By E.J. Dionne  | November 4, 2008; 6:04 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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