Cantwell, Obama, an Exceptionally Hot Gym, and an Unsteady Campaign Event
On Thursday, Goldy over at HorsesAss suggested I had gone ga-ga for a certain political candidate. Today he has his own ga-ga moment, fawning over Washington Senator Maria Cantwell and her appearance at the Garfield High School gym yesterday with political wunderkind Barack Obama. (You can find other gushy coverage here, here, and here, and Seattle Times coverage here.)
I have to say, I don’t agree with Goldy that the event was a good sign for Cantwell, who’s running for re-election this year.
Supporters of Aaron Dixon, Cantwell’s nettlesome Green Party challenger, were outside the Garfield gym beforehand making noise, and Robert Jamieson of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had welcomed Cantwell to the Central District on Saturday morning by basically calling her an opportunist in print. Then, when Cantwell rose to speak, she was immediately interrupted by protesters holding up a long banner that read: “Maria Can’t Say No to War. Barak, Don’t Obom Iraq.”
Cantwell seemed flustered, and embarrassed to have brought her superstar Senate colleague all the way across the country for an anti-war ambush. As the protesters chanted, she made the standard stalling remarks about what a great country this is for allowing such dissent, and then said it was time to move on, that she wasn’t there to talk about the war, but rather about education.
That didn’t move the protesters, who kept chanting, and with the event teetering on the verge of collapse, King County Executive Ron Sims had to spring out of his seat on the dais and lead the crowd in a counter-chant of “Cantwell, Cantwell!” That gave Cantwell’s handlers enough time to hustle the protesters out of the gym, but the long, awkward moment reminded everyone in the audience that Cantwell voted for the war in Iraq and is unapologetic about it — a position that isn’t going to serve her well in liberal Seattle, especially with a Green Party challenger nipping at her expensive heels (and on top of that a well-funded Republican challenger, former insurance company executive Mike McGavick).
Cantwell’s speech went on, and was received with strong applause. But then, shortly after Obama rose to speak, there was a loud thud. It was packed in the Garfield gym, and extremely warm, and someone had apparently fainted from all the body heat. That interrupted the event again, and brought back the teetering feeling. Obama, who has a breathtaking presence and a mesmerizing oratorical ability, was able to calm the crowd, made sure a doctor was taking care of the person, and then moved on. An elderly black woman who had brought a framed picture of Obama continued to hold it aloft every time he made a good point. But there were other things being held up during his speech as well: Signs saying, “Iraq Entering Year 4, How Many More,” and “Garfield PTSA Opposes Military Recruiters in Schools.”
Then someone shouted at Obama: “What about the war?”
Obama, too, wanted to talk about education, not the war. And not having been in the Senate when the decision to invade Iraq was made, he had an easy dodge. “Now hold on,” he said. “I didn’t vote for the war, young man.”
His speech continued, education was talked about, the crowd was enthralled by his magnetism, and Cantwell got her photo-op in what’s considered the heart of Seattle’s black community.
But I left with a sense of having watched a re-election campaign teeter, and with the feeling that Cantwell could land in serious trouble with her Seattle constituency if she doesn’t find a way to address the war — nevermind her recent embrace of Idaho Republican Dirk Kempthorne’s nomination as Interior Secretary.
She’s lucky Obama’s star power smoothed the event over, and she’s also lucky she was only dealing with two tricky constituencies on Saturday, the black and anti-war communities. Imagine if environmentalists like Cienna Madrid had been in the crowd as well.