Tales from the Trail

A ‘Cougar’ may be stalking Bayh’s empty Senate seat

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After rocking the house for decades, could Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Mellencamp rock the U.S. Senate?

Some Democrats think so and they’re trying to draft him as a possible replacement for departing Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh.

“Don’t laugh, O.K.? I’m very serious,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the left-leaning weekly magazine, The Nation, told MSNBC this week. “He’s a heartland son of Indiana.”

The Nation is polling online readers about possible Bayh replacements and lists Mellencamp as “Rocker and ‘farm aid’ concerts champion.” By contrast, Dan Coats gets the somewhat less dashing moniker: “Former Indiana Republican senator looking to regain his title.”

Meanwhile, a Draft Mellencamp ”movement” has set up shop on Facebook.

Obama and Hannity – beer-drinking buddies?

ELKHART, Ind. – President Barack Obama and conservative commentator Sean Hannity are hardly political allies, but Obama on Monday briefly entertained the thought they could at least share a beer.

 At least, Obama seemed to like the beer part.

OBAMA/STIMULUSHannity, a talk show host who is one of Obama’s harshest critics, offered recently to buy the president a beer after Obama said “hardcore” Hannity fans would not want to share a brew with him.

 At a town hall meeting in Indiana where Obama was selling his stimulus package, a woman who identified herself as Tara questioned why some of Obama’s cabinet appointments could not handle their own taxes.

First draft: Back on the trail again

Just three weeks into his presidency, Barack Obama heads back out on the campaign trail today. This time he’s going to a hard-hit part of Indiana where unemployment has soared, to try to build support for an $800 billion economic stimulus package.USA-OBAMA/

Obama, who excelled in the presidential campaign at ramping up support at rallies through emotional speeches, will be holding a town-hall type meeting in Elkhart, Indiana — where unemployment has jumped to 15.3 percent from 4.7 percent over the past year.

The Obama administration is focusing all its effort on getting lawmakers to approve the economic stimulus plan. In fact, yesterday the Treasury Department announced it would delay the announcement of a separate, keenly awaited bank rescue plan by a day until Tuesday so the focus could stay on the stimulus package on Monday.

Sen. Lugar won’t join Cabinet of new president

WASHINGTON – Sen. Richard Lugar, a heavyweight in U.S. foreign policy, intends to stay in the Senate despite speculation the Indiana Republican may be the next secretary of state, said a spokesman on Monday.
    
“He’s been very clear that he won’t be serving in any administration, that he likes his current job and will stay put,” Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher said in an email.
 
Lugar, 76, has been mentioned as a  possible secretary of state for Democrat Barack Obama as well as previous candidates. He is the Republican leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, is the chairman.

The Indiana lawmaker also was mentioned as a possible Cabinet member or running mate for Republican presidential hopeful John McCain.
 
Lugar has worked for years on nuclear nonproliferation and visited Georgia after its brief war with Russia in August. He briefly ran for the 1996 Republican nomination for president. He was elected to his sixth term in the Senate in 2006.

- Photo credit: Reuters/Adrees Latif (Lugar in Tbilisi, Georgia in August.)

Obama camp to superdelegates: “Read the newspapers”

CHICAGO – As Barack Obama celebrated his compelling win in North Carolina and the unexpected closeness of the Indiana race on Tuesday night, his senior strategist said one of the campaign’s top tasks now is to court influential Democratic Party figures.
 
The Democratic senator from Illinois was seen as showing resilience after a bumpy ride in which he has struggled with questions about his former pastor’s fiery sermons and efforts by Clinton to paint him as an “out of touch” elitist.
 
Analysts said his rival Hillary Clinton, who won only narrowly in Indiana where she had been favored to do well, was likely to face increased pressure to exit the race because her showing did little to advance her argument that she would be more electable than Obama in a matchup against Republican Sen. John McCain.
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Asked by reporters whether there would be a slew of new endorsements from the party stalwarts and officials known as the “superdelegates,” Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, was careful not to reveal too much.
 
“We’re going to be reaching out to them,” Axelrod told reporters as Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, flew back home to Chicago from his evening rally in North Carolina.
 
The Obama strategist said the message in these conversations would be a simple one: “Read the newspapers.”

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

Photo credit: Reuters/Chris Keane (Obama waves to supporters at his North Carolina and Indiana primary election night rally in Raleigh.)

Obama makes pitch to hard-hats, shift workers

obama-greets-workers.jpgINDIANAPOLIS – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, seeking to erode rival Hillary Clinton’s edge with blue-collar workers, made a personal pitch for their support on the eve of Tuesday’s Indiana and North Carolina primaries.

“How is everybody?” Obama asked a group of workers in hard hats at a construction site on Monday morning in Evansville, Indiana, where he chatted with them about health care and gasoline costs.

After a town hall session in North Carolina and a big evening rally in Indiana, Obama  stopped by a car parts plant in Indianapolis at midnight to greet workers coming off the night shift. He told them he faced a close race with Clinton and asked for their votes. But Frank Spiceland, 29, a machinist at the plant, which employs 600 Ford Motor Company employees and 600 from Automotive Components Holdings, asked Obama to help save his job.

John Mellencamp rocks Clinton campaign

mellencamp.jpgINDIANAPOLIS – Rock star John Mellencamp played for Hillary Clinton in his home state of Indiana on Saturday, just a few days after he played for her rival, Barack Obama.

“This country’s got to change, and you’re the people who can change it,” he told a crowd of Clinton supporters shivering in an evening chill in White River State Park in Indianapolis.

Mellencamp, an Indiana native who still lives in the state, then launched into “Our Country,” a song often played at Clinton campaign events.

To Obama, it’s Sweet Home Indiana

KEMPTON, Indiana – Barack Obama, vying for support from Hoosiers before Indiana’s Tuesday primary, reconnected with his roots in the state with a visit to a farmhouse owned by his family for generations.
    
The white Victorian home in rural Kempton sits on land owned by Obama’s fourth great-grandfather, who passed it down several generations within the family of Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham. Ann Dunham obama2.jpgwas from Kansas but she later moved to Hawaii, where Obama was raised.
    
The Kempton farmhouse was built by William Riley Dunham, a great uncle of Obama. After the Dunham family gave it up, it was used at one stage as a funeral home and was recently purchased by Sean Clements, who plans to spruce it.
    
As part of an effort to show a folksier side of the Illinois senator, the campaign planned the visit to the house as an outdoor potluck dinner with Clements and his family and friends.
    
But the weather didn’t cooperate. It was chilly with big gusts of wind that toppled the foldup tables set up in the back yard. So the tables had to be taken down and the dinner was scrapped in favor of a walk-around tour by Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, Sasha, 6, and Malia, 9.
    
But there were no shortages of other opportunities to show the “regular guy” side of Obama, who has said he is determined to counter efforts by his opponents to portray him and his wife as “elitist, pointy-headed intellectual types.”
    
The Obamas visited a picnic gathering in Noblesville at lunchtime. In the evening, they stopped by a roller-skating rink for an “ice cream social” with supporters. Obama did not skate, though his daughters did.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage

Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed

Obama courts the over-70 set

CHARLES CITY, Indiana – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tried on Thursday to win over members of one of his most skeptical audiences: senior citizens.

Those voters have tended to be a strong base for Obama’s rival Hillary Clinton, a former first lady and New York senator. At 60, Clinton is older than the 46-year-old Obama and is seen by many older voters as the more experienced candidate.

Visiting an assisted living center in Indiana, the Illinois senator shared stories about his grandfather’s service in World War II, his grandmother’s frugality and his mother’s battle with cancer.barack.jpg

On field of dreams, Clinton mangles metaphor

hillary-in-south-bend.jpgSOUTH BEND, INDIANA – Sports are a natural metaphor for political campaigns — both have winners and losers, competing teams, and a final score.

In basketball-mad Indiana, Democrat Hillary Clinton held a rally on Indiana University’s basketball court in Bloomington on Friday, while rival Barack Obama played a three-on-three game with supporters later that night.

On Saturday, Clinton headed to South Bend, best known as home to Notre Dame‘s Fighting Irish football team. Former president Ronald Reagan, a Republican, laid claim to that franchise long ago, thanks to his portrayal of Irish football player George “the Gipper” Gipp in the 1940 film “Knute Rockne: All American.”