The Obama campaign is like a really fast racing bike that has slipped a gear and is spinning its pedals waiting for the chain to catch so they can take off down the track. You can see the rabid enthusiasm in Eugene, Oregon where he basks in adulation and an army of folks just chomping at the bit to take the fight to the Republicans.
As his bus pulled up, he strode onto the handsome old track just as the women’s 5K was ending. A murmur went through the crowd, the public-address announcer confirmed his arrival, and the action came to a halt as 5,000 track fans rose as one to cheer the senator from Illinois who appears suddenly on the verge of claiming his party’s presidential nomination. The javelin hurlers dropped their equipment, and the 400-meter hurdlers paused in their warm-ups as a waving Obama made his way around one of the country’s most famous tracks bathed in late-afternoon sunlight — a victory lap.
“You guys are just so fast. I congratulate you,” Obama said as he reached the finish line, where the 5K runners still waited — as if the applause was for anyone but him.
Meanwhile, in West Virginia, another, darker story is unfolding.
They traveled here from New York, Pennsylvania and Indiana last week to stand in the rain on a rural street corner, at a four-way intersection of winding mountain roads. One woman, a doctor, took vacation time from her job to make the trip. Another, a mother of three, hired a babysitter for the first time in months.
The 10 volunteers, linked by a resolve to keep Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign alive by helping her win Tuesday’s West Virginia primary, met to wave campaign signs patched together with duct tape. They cheered as the first car, a beat-up white Volvo, rolled toward the intersection, and a young man in aviator sunglasses leaned out his driver’s-side window.
“Hey,” he said. “Don’t you think you’re wasting your time?”
If there is a fault line in the Democratic Party, West Virginia is the place to find it.
But on this day, the intersection of Highway 480 and German Street, where they stood, divided Shepherdstown into two factions. College kids from Shepherd University approached from the north, angry that Clinton has remained in a race she appears destined to lose. Truck drivers and farmers approached from the south, their support for Clinton fortified by her perseverance.
The two groups met at the intersection in a cacophony of honking horns and shouting that echoed across this town of about 1,000 near the Maryland border. After two hours, Luanne Smith had heard enough.
“It’s become so personal, just one insult after another,” Smith said. “These sides are starting to feel some hate for each other. Everybody is angry, but I’m going to keep at this as long as I can. I never want to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘You quit. You didn’t do your part.'”
In any argument between young and old, the young will eventually get their way. But in West Virginia (and next week in Kentucky), the old Democratic Party will get one last chance to have their say. They will say ‘no’ to change in a resounding voice. They will not ratify this sea-change in the American power structure. And that’s okay. We’ve been here before. Every progressive movement in this country has been accompanied by dead-enders who clung to the way things were. Right now, their lack of consent for change is preventing the Obama movement from getting in gear and speeding off down the track. But Oregon will be the moment when everything snaps in place, and the race begins in earnest.
Come November, the Democrats are going to be competitive almost everywhere (although, perhaps not in West Virginia and Kentucky). In North Carolina, our senate candidate is actually leading Senator Elizabeth Dole. In Texas, Rick Noriega is only trailing Sen. Cornyn by 4 points. In Oregon our candidates are in a deadheat with Sen. Gordon Smith. We are winning special elections in deep red districts in Illinois, Louisiana, and (hopefully) Mississippi. Even seemingly safe seats in places like Staten Island are succumbing to scandal. There are almost no safe seats and no safe states for the Republicans this year round.
We are on the way to a realignment not seen since 1964.