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DOWD: Can Clinton buoy Obama tonight?

CHARLOTTE, N.C.

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I remember the first time I realized that Barack Obama was not going to be another Bill Clinton. Everyone assumed that the Secretariat from Illinois was the natural heir to the Secretariat from Arkansas. But Barry was only out of the gate for a day in 2007 before it became apparent that, while the senator had a bouquet of talents and several virtues that Clinton would never possess, he was not quite Bill's match as a political natural.

On his first Iowa campaign trip, Barry was irritated. (Michelle had made him quit smoking). He was hungry. (He had eaten only trail mix.) He was indignant. (Why would press pests care what he looked like shirtless in Hawaii?)

When the diffident debutante ended up in the deserted AmericInn's lobby in Iowa Falls on an icy Saturday night with reporters and a few six-packs, he did not seize the opportunity to seduce, as Bill would have. Clinton probably would have chatted

with one reporter about Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another about economic philosophy and a third about prowling the Arkansas backwoods to find antique

cameos for Hillary.

Barry, for his part, looked around with dazed distaste and scurried up to his room. He seemed oddly conflicted about politics. That ambivalence started

with the first political speech he gave at Occidental College, when he felt both elation at his ability to rouse with words and disdain at how easy it was. It became an exhausting pattern: Get people wildly excited and then withhold the excitement.

Avoid sound bites and visceral connections because political games are beneath you. Instead of surfing the magic and using it to cow the opposition, Obama would retreat inside himself at crucial moments, climbing back to his contemplative


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