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Originally published Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 4:01 AM

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Obama on the road: a study in self-assurance

In his days in the state Senate in Springfield, Ill., Barack Obama was known as a pretty good poker player. While he might have known how to mask a winning hand then, he's not hiding the self-confidence he appears to have about the outcome of his re-election bid.

Associated Press

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MILWAUKEE —

In his days in the state Senate in Springfield, Ill., Barack Obama was known as a pretty good poker player. While he might have known how to mask a winning hand then, he's not hiding the self-confidence he appears to have about the outcome of his re-election bid.

He's taken to running to his rope lines, as if one moment away from a voter is a moment too long. He soaks up his crowds, chin out, waiting for the din to die down. He jokes when he urges an overflow audience not to hesitate to take a friend, a neighbor, a girlfriend to vote early.

"You should convince them to vote for me before you before you drag them off to the polls," he says. But his demeanor says he just knows they will.

Obama, in the final three day campaign sprint of his life, betrays no sign of disquiet over the outcome of the race. His team, disciplined analysts of voter data and hard election metrics, shows no anxiety either.

Long-time political adviser David Axelrod, he of the droopy mustache and the hangdog look, is all smiles, vowing to shave off his 40-year-old facial hair if Obama loses Minnesota, Michigan or Pennsylvania (the bet drew a rebuke from the American Mustache Institute) Other aides, including deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, are growing beards until the election.

Senior adviser David Plouffe, who examines political movements like economists track rare market indicators, displays the same coolness he had at this time four years ago, when Obama's victory then was all but assured.

Now, these are professional practitioners of politics where misdirection and a good poker face are requisite arts. Presidents know how to hide bad news or put an upbeat face on gloom. In a nip-and-tuck election, he and his aides could be whistling past a graveyard.

But their body language in every way suggests they believe their numbers. And their own numbers say they are winning. To be sure, Obama has an easier path to the 270 electoral votes he needs to win re-election. He must hold on to leads in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota, and win in Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin, states where public polls show him tied or with an advantage. Early voting in Iowa and Ohio show Democrats outnumber Republicans. For Obama, it is clear Ohio, with its 18 electoral votes, is the key.

In these final days, Obama has been piling on events. He had three stops in Ohio Friday. He has four stops Saturday, covering Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Virginia. On Sunday, he'll travel to New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio (again), and Colorado.

His voice is raspy now, comforted backstage with sips of hot tea. But the familiar lean into the microphones is more pronounced. In Mentor, Ohio, Saturday, when he cried out "We've come too far to turn back now," his right arm stretched behind him as if to point to a departed place.

Later, at a Milwaukee rally with a boisterous crowd of more than 10,000, he drew attention, as he often does, to his graying hair and suggested that Romney is an unknown quantity.

"Now Wisconsin, after four years as president you know me. You know me. You've watched me age before your eyes."

Among those traveling with him in this last push is longtime Chicago friend Marty Nesbitt.

"I've never seen him more exhilarated than he is right now," Axelrod said.

"He is very cognizant of the fact that this is his last campaign. This is the closing argument of his last campaign," he said. "He knows he's never going to do this again."

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