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Obama tweaks public events to stress regular guy but then came the roller rink

May 3, 2008 |  8:34 pm

A small but revealing shift today by the Obama campaign in the public packaging of its candidate, who's caught some flak in recent weeks for his elitist comments and references. (Not to mention Rev. Jeremiah Wright.)

Clearly that elite criticism touched an Obama nerve as the multimillionaire, Ivy League-educated lawyer Hillary ClinIllinois Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama speaking at a recent campaign event in South Bend, Indianaton goes about the Rust Belt downing shots in urban taverns, talking about hunting and "buying" gas with a sheet metal worker. It paid off for her in dominating the recent primary results among the small working class towns of central Pennsylvania.

So Barack Obama and his surrogates began a barrage of seemingly casual comments noting he was the child of a single mother who once used food stamps. No more talk in possibly bitter small towns of Harvard, Columbia and the outrageous price of arugula in Hyde Park these days.

But now, instead of being introduced by the usual local politicians or officials at his public events as a reward in local publicity for their backing, the honor of preceding the candidate on stage and saying a few words to the crowd and cameras is being awarded to regular folks chosen by his advance teams.

The goal: to counter a perception among many that...

the wealthy Obama is out of touch with ordinary voters, an impression possibly fed by his adamant opposition as bad policy to a summerlong gas tax holiday favored by both Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain

In Indianapolis today, just 48 hours before the crucial Indiana and North Carolina party primaries, as The Times' Peter Nicholas noticed, the Illinois senator and Democratic presidential frontrunner was introduced by Mike Fischer, an Amtrak machinist reportedly worried about losing his job.

The senator also briefly trotted out his wife, Michelle, and their two young daughters -- 6-year-old Sasha and 9-year-old Malia. And then this evening came another special attempt to be ordinary. But this one may have been double-edged.

It happened at the Greater Skates roller ink in Lafayette, again with The Times' Nicholas and dozens of cameras on hand. You know, Harvard grad shuns Chablis for the musty rink with the fam on Saturday night. But such "opportunities" carry unseen dangers, as any political communicator knows intuitively.

How many nano-seconds would it take for video of Obama doing a full flip pratfall on roller skates to get up on YouTube? That could be as bad as Wright in its own way, a metaphor for a sliding campaign. And, truth be told, B.O., the would-be regular guy, sure didn't do very well at the old bowling alley back in the Keystone State.

The solution: His family dons the skates and gives the precarious pastime a game try. And the candidate? He shuffles out on the rink floor in dress shoes, slacks and shirt to "help" his daughters. Lame video. Nice photos. Safety.   

Small things, to be sure. But so is each individual vote.

-- Andrew Malcolm

                                                      Photo Credit: AP / Joe Raymond