Sunday, October 19, 2008

An Obama Sighting!

I am in rural North Carolina this week as part of an ABA site evaluation team. Something seemed a little bit odd when I arrived at the hotel last night and found a significant law-enforcement presence, so to speak, which I assumed was not there for my benefit. There were stone-faced security personnel in the lobby with ear wires (I don't know the technical term), and they were clearly on duty. I was not permitted to use one of the elevators, and had to wait (forever, it seemed) for the other one to return to the lobby so I could get to my room. This morning when I came downstairs for breakfast, I learned that Senator Barack Obama was in the meeting room directly across the hall from me. He was holding a press conference, and there were security guards and police officers everywhere. I decided to wait around to see what would happen. As I waited, the lobby began to fill up with other guests and with people from the area who had heard that Senator Obama was there and wanted to have a chance to see him. At some point, I realized that I didn't have my cellphone and couldn't take a picture (assuming I would have an opportunity to do so), but when I tried to get back to my room, I learned that the Secret Service had cut off both elevators and the stairs as well. After about an hour and a half of waiting, the lobby was literally jammed with people, as was the area outside the hotel. I had commandered a coffee table and was standing on top of it in order to get a better view, but at some point the Secret Service told me to get down. It seemed prudent not to put up a fuss, even though there were a lot of awfully tall people there. Finally, Senator Obama came out of the press conference, and greeted the crowd. I was about four feet away from him and didn't get to shake his hand, but I did get a good look at him and was able to observe the effect he had on the people who had gathered. He made a special effort to speak to children, and asked to meet the hotel staff, who were thrilled. In person, Senator Obama is even slimmer than he appears on television, and moves with grace. He is self-contained, but not standoffish. I found the whole experience to be fascinating. I cannot imagine how the candidates stand to be on display every minute and how they find the energy to visit two or three states in one day.

The other thing that I find fascinating is to be in a swing state so close to the election. The presidential candidates don't seem to be spending much time in New York, and, at least where I live, there aren't many television ads for either candidate. Some days it's easy to forget that there is a presidential election under way. In North Carolina, however, the ads for the two candidates play constantly on the television, and they are nasty in tone. I also didn't realize that Senator Elizabeth Dole is in serious danger of losing her seat until I got down here. Again, I learned this through television ads that are positively virulent in tone.

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