It's been a punishing month of bad food, airplane air and hoarse vocal cords. And Barack Obama isn't even on the ballot today.
The popular senator from Illinois, who has barnstormed the country on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial and congressional candidates, is one of the A-list political celebrities of the 2006 campaign season. Other big draws: former president Bill Clinton, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
They aren't doing it for the frequent-flier miles. These headliners bring glitz to otherwise ho-hum rallies and help dazzle donors out of millions of dollars. They earn the gratitude of future officeholders and get to know thousands of voters.
That's all very useful, given that these non-candidates may run for president in two years -- or, as with Clinton, the non-candidate is married to a 2008 hopeful, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Giuliani's itinerary in the closing days included Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina. All four states have Republican candidates on the ballot this year and will host crucial early primaries in 2008.
"You're building up chits," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democrats' campaign committee, who has summoned Obama, Clinton and others to appear on behalf of his candidates. "Everyone wants to say that they got out there and put some skin in the game and contributed to a big win."
Sometimes the visits telegraph something about a candidate. Charlie Crist, the Republican candidate for Florida governor, was too busy yesterday to meet up with President Bush in Pensacola but did find time to rally with McCain in Jacksonville. Crist is trying to woo moderate voters to edge out his Democratic rival, Rep. Jim Davis.
And sometimes they make the wrong kind of news. Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) was a popular Democratic guest speaker until an event in California last week for gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides, when he botched a joke about Bush and the war in Iraq. Republicans portrayed the comment as an insult to U.S. troops, and it became a rallying cry for conservative voters in the campaign's final stretch.
More typical: a fundraiser Sunday night in Nashville, headlined by McCain along with fellow GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and John Thune of South Dakota, on behalf of Republican Senate candidate Bob Corker. As of last night, when McCain returned to Arizona to campaign for Sen. Jon Kyl, he had attended 346 events in this election cycle and had raised more than $10.5 million on behalf of Republican candidates.
Clinton's November schedule was packed with 21 events, including two rallies for his wife, who is expected to easily win a second Senate term today. The former president, still wildly popular with the Democratic base, hit 100-plus events in 31 states for this election cycle, raising more than $33 million from Democratic donors. He also taped 100 prerecorded campaign calls and filmed numerous television and radio ads. Last night, Clinton hit a rally in Alexandria with Senate candidate James Webb.
But Obama may be the biggest attraction. Despite his brief two years on the national stage, Obama has generated rapturous enthusiasm among Democrats, and he has said he is considering a presidential run. His success on the campaign trail in recent weeks has added to his cachet.
The Obama blitz started on Oct. 5 with a fundraiser in New York City for the state's congressional candidates. The next day he flew to Florida for a rally and fundraiser, and then he moved on to Kansas City, Minnesota and Ohio. By the 13th, he had held fundraisers for all the Senate Democratic candidates, collecting $2 million. On Oct. 25 and 26, Obama sent a joint fundraising e-mail to supporters of Kerry and to MoveOn.org, the antiwar group, and raised a total of $1.6 million, all for individual congressional candidates.
The freshman senator paused in the middle of the month for book-related events, then raced through Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Colorado and Washington state. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs estimates that Obama has visited all the main Senate battlegrounds at least three times. Another mainstay is Massachusetts, where Obama was an early supporter of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick, who is favored to win today, and who, like Obama, is African American.
'I love you back!'
At a Democratic rally in Norristown, Pa., he received rock-star treatment when he took the stage to tout the state's congressional candidates. In an audience of 1,000, people waved copies of his new book and angled for his autograph. One cried out "We love you!" as Obama came into view.
"I love you back!" Obama responded.
He gave the same speech he has delivered at dozens of similar rallies, explaining how Americans can have "the audacity of hope" to change their lives and those of others. That's also the title of his latest book, published Oct. 17.
The crowd ate it up. Dianne Wills, a Norristown resident and a Republican, said after the rally she would vote Democratic this year after hearing Obama and other speakers. "It convinced me that my choice is right," Wills said.
Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.