In late 2002 (or thereabouts), shortly after I'd moved to St. Louis to write for the Riverfront Times , I met Barack Obama at McGurk's Irish>"/>
In late 2002 (or thereabouts), shortly after I'd moved to St. Louis to write for the Riverfront Times, I met Barack Obama at McGurk's Irish Pub in the River City's historic Soulard neighborhood, where I lived for the duration of my three-and-a-half year tenure there. At the time, Obama, then a state legislator in Illinois, was laying the early groundwork for what was considered to be a longshot run for U.S. Senate. He'd been campaigning in Southern Illinois all day, and was staying at the Drury Inn in downtown St. Louis. He was among a group of six guys from Chicago, one of whom, Dan Shomon, I knew from a story I'd written about ping-pong (Shomon handled publicity at the time for both Obama and another highly successful light-skinned brother from the south side, Robert Blackwell, who financed a world-class ping-pong team that practiced in Hyde Park). At McGurk's, Obama blended in, went unrecognized, and was generally extremely pleasant to be around. I'm pretty sure he took a few drags off a cigarette, too. Didn't matter: Nobody had a clue who he was.
If Obama were to walk into McGurk's today, he'd be mobbed. His rise to the national stage is legitimately the biggest Democratic juggernaut since JFK. Key difference: Obama doesn't hail from a blueblood New England dynastic clan; he's a self-made man. Understandably, he's got pundits from all over the country jumping on his Presidential bandwagon, including the P.I.'s Joel Connelly, who in his column today, simply shouts (can you shout in print?): "Run, Barack, run!"
Connelly goes on to speculate that Obama could topple Hillary Clinton if the stars align correctly. Here's the thing: As I stated in a web-only crystal ball piece the day after Election Day, I think if Obama runs, Clinton doesn't. For starters, they've got many of the same New Dem money men behind them, the sort of folks who can dictate who they want to run simply by adding a zero or two to the end of their checks. Moreover, Clinton's way too canny a pol to throw herself in front of a political freight train, and while much of the shine's been chipped off John McCain as he's stupidly cozied up to the right, the Arizona senator will be a formidable opponent no matter who the Dems nominate. And she'll still be young enough in '12 to mount a run should Obama lose.
But like I said in my piece, I think Mitt Romney will get the R's nomination, and Obama will end up toppling him by four points at the polls in '08. Why? Because he's already proved to be a good guy to have a beer with, which remains voters' number one criteria for who they want leading the free world.