Friday, April 04, 2008

Yoohoo, Senator Obama, Where Areeee Youuuu???

EXCLUSIVE: Clinton and McCain Are Set to Share the Stage Tomorrow in Memphis. Will Obama Join Them?

Andrew Romano

With only three candidates remaining in the presidential race--one of whom (John McCain) has already pivoted to the general election and another two (Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) who are hopscotching from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Indiana, sometimes in the same day--it's not often that the campaigns cross path the way they did back in, say, Iowa.

But according to my NEWSWEEK colleague Holly Bailey, who's currently traveling with McCain in Florida, that's exactly what might happen tomorrow.

Here's the deal. Friday is the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, and McCain is scheduled to honor him with an appearance in Memphis. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has put out a press release saying she too is trekking to Memphis "in remembrance" of King's death--and that there are "additional details to be announced." Speculation has swirled about whether they'll bump into each other; according to the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, "both campaigns' roadshows are slated to arrive at the airport at about the same time... and spent the night at hotels about six blocks apart." But what hasn't been reported--and what Holly has discovered--is that both Clinton and McCain are sticking around longer than expected to participate in an NBC News forum on the legendary civil rights leader--together.

This will be the first time the Democratic and Republican rivals have appeared on the same stage since posing for a photo-op in between the back-to-back Republican and Democratic debates in New Hampshire on Jan. 6. (They also returned to the Senate last month.) Top McCain aide Steve Schmidt says he expects the two candidates to "share remembrances of Dr. King," adding that the format will be strictly be about King and they don't plan any talk about issues in the campaign. "This is not a political event," he says. Although don't be surprised if McCain mentions that he learned of King's slaying from guards at the Hanoi Hilton. After all, he is in the midst of his nationwide "Memory Lane" Tour 2008.

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that one name is missing from the Memphis Meet-Up list: Barack Obama. According to Holly, Schmidt says that there's an "expectation that all presidential candidates" will participate, but Obama has not yet confirmed his attendance. (His staff will only say that they "should be advising his full schedule soon.") There's some precedent here: Obama skipped Tavis Smiley's Feb. 21 "State of the Black Union" event in New Orleans, even though Clinton made the trip. (Ah, the politics of race.)

At the moment, Obama has only one event on tomorrow's docket: a 5:30 p.m. keynote address at the Democratic-NPL Party State Convention in Grand Forks, N.D. Coincidentally, Clinton follows him on stage there at 7:30 p.m.

Seeing as flights from Memphis to Grand Forks are scarce--and global warming is only getting worse--may we suggest a plane-pool?

On second thought, maybe not.

UPDATE: No Obama. “While he would have enjoyed participating in the event in Memphis, he had a prior commitment to the North Dakota Democratic Party that he is also looking forward to attending," says spokesperson Jen Psaki.

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