Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I’ll be watching outside Obama gathering in Quincy for any real campaign news

Quincy, Ill., hasn’t had this many Chicago people pay attention to it since the days some four decades ago when the Chicago Cubs had a minor league affiliate there.

Yet all of the political observers who specialize in Second City, and perhaps even a few amateurs who think the activity on Capitol Hill is as intense, are going to be watching the Mississippi River town of some 40,000 people to see what President Barack Obama does during his visit on Wednesday.

OFFICIALLY, OBAMA IS visiting several “middle-America” municipalities this week as part of what he is billing as a “White House to Main Street” tour – as though popping into Quincy and several other places just like it will suddenly make him more aware of what the people of our nation want from their federal government.

But the Quincy stop is going to get some extra scrutiny because it will be the only one on this tour that puts him within the boundaries of Illinois. Technically, it is official government business, and NOT a campaign stop.

So taxpayer funds will wind up covering the cost of travel and security and all the other nuances that get involved anytime a president takes it upon himself to commingle with the public.

But that distinction between government business and campaign business is going to get blurred, because Obama earlier this week gave invitations to just about every Democratic government official in Illinois – including Gov. Pat Quinn and Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias.

THE LATTER IS facing his own political perception problems that Republican partisans are eager to exaggerate into matters of grave significance – and seeing how Giannoulias deals with this conduct will tell us a lot about whether he is fit to serve in the U.S. Senate.

But there are those who are trying to read into his invitation some sort of support from Obama – a sign that the president is going to take a strong hand in trying to get his one-time basketball-playing buddy back on track from having to deal with the image that Republicans want us to have – one of a mob-tied banker who’s being bailed out by the same taxpayers who are paying for Air Force One to make a stop close enough to Adams County, Ill., that he can be in Quincy.

If this commentary reads like I am mocking the idea that Obama can (or will) do anything of significance to “save” Giannoulias on Wednesday, you would be dead-on accurate.

Personally, I will be surprised if Giannoulias, or Quinn, or anybody who serves on our local political scene, is allowed to say anything of significance that would allow them any specific attention. This appearance is about promoting Obama’s federal governing credentials, not bolstering our local campaign scene.

THE ONLY REAL significance would have been if Giannoulias had somehow been denied an invitation, although I personally would not have considered it to be too much of a snub.

But he didn’t.

Obama invited Giannoulias, along with Quinn (who should be smacking Republican gubernatorial nominee William Brady’s campaign all over the place these days, but isn’t) and just about any other Democrat with a pulse.

It’s not a specific honor. I’d be amazed if Obama said anything that could be construed as supportive because this just wouldn’t be the place for it.

ADAMS COUNTY IS not some Democratic stronghold. Obama lost that county in the 2008 general election by a 60 percent to 38 percent margin to Republican opponent John McCain (although he beat Hillary R. Clinton in the primary there by a 57 percent to 39 percent margin).

In fact, the website of the Quincy Herald-Whig newspaper (I like that name) had a completely-unscientific (but possibly honest) reader poll that had 73 percent of respondents saying they would neither try to see Obama, nor watch him on local television, during his visit.

So for all those people who are convinced that Wednesday is going to somehow influence our local elections, I’d be very skeptical. In fact, about the only reason I’m going to be watching what happens in Quincy is that I’m curious to see how the counter-demonstration progresses.

A group calling itself Quincy’s “Tea Party movement” plans to hold its own rally outside of the hall where Obama is hoping to hold a “town hall” session. Inside the hall will be an impromptu session that is as completely-scripted as any public appearance a president makes.

OUTSIDE WILL BE an event more chaotic, in that who’s to say what these Tea Party types are capable of doing.

Will we get a vocal, but respectful (as in acknowledging the office, regardless of the man in it), voice of dissent? Or will it deteriorate into some sort of raucous mess that winds up making the Republican Party in Illinois have to issue some sort of lame apology and denial that they were even involved?

Be honest. That option is much more likely than the thought of Giannoulias saying anything interesting, or getting any kind of real support while he gets to stand on stage during the event and serve as a presidential prop of sorts.


EDITOR’S NOTES: They’re already acting in Quincy as though they are being snubbed, pointing out that the president didn’t say much of anything on his arrival in Illinois on Tuesday. He is hitting towns in Iowa and Missouri before returning to Quincy for a Wednesday town hall forum.

No matter how much some people want to believe it so, Alexi Giannoulias is likely to be the least interesting aspect of what will happen Wednesday in the Gem City.

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