Martha Coakley, the struggling Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts, has had the luxury of two presidents campaigning for her. Bill Clinton was in Boston and Worcester on Friday, and Barack Obama came to Boston today.
Who was more effective? Having watched Clinton's Boston speech from inside the room Friday, and Obama's speech on television today, it's impossible to escape the conclusion that Clinton just blew Obama's doors off. Obama's speech was halting, wandering, and humorless; the president looked as if he didn’t want to be there. There's no doubt the crowd was excited to see Obama, but he seemed so hesitant and out-of-rhythm at the top that it appeared he might have been having teleprompter trouble, and he was also clearly rattled and unable to handle the completely-predictable presence of a heckler. By contrast, Clinton's speech, delivered without a prompter and seemingly off the cuff, was about as good as you can get on the stump. Clinton remains the greatest simplifier in American politics; he can present an issue -- usually the wrong side of an issue -- as the most obvious, common-sense idea you could possibly imagine. His speech was better than Obama's by a mile.
The fact is, for all his reputation as a great orator, Obama just doesn't look very good outside the comfort zone of his teleprompter and a carefully scripted event. His admirers in the Democratic party and the press may tingle with excitement when he takes the stage, but Obama was clearly the second-best presidential campaigner in the Massachusetts race.