Shortly after Barack Obama claimed victory in the fight for the Democratic nomination, I joined him aboard his chartered 757 campaign plane as a member of the press corps. He was flying from Chicago to Appleton, Wisconsin, for a town-hall meeting, one of a series he was doing in Midwestern and swing states to address constituencies he might have missed during the primaries — and, of course, to get some warm-up practice for any town-hall debates he has with John McCain.
The first thing I notice about the plane is how low-key it is, all coach seating from back (the press) to front (the candidate). There is no separate compartment for this potential president; he just holds down the second row for himself and his newspapers. There are no more than 10 staffers on the plane, and a dozen or more rows are empty, separating the senator from the Secret Service contingent and two dozen members of the traveling press corps. It's not a big day or a big event: The primaries are done, and none of the media big names are along.
So far in this campaign, despite their evident admiration, Obama has held the press at a respectful distance. The limit for our interview is going to be 50 minutes, which I think says a lot about him and his campaign. Most every other presidential candidate I've met and interviewed has tended to be gregarious, talkative almost to a fault, eager to please and eager to impress. Obama, by contrast, is quiet, collected and effortlessly precise.
His calmness is reflected in the smooth and controlled campaign he is overseeing. In conversation, his thoughtfulness is punctuated by an easy wit, much as his clockwork campaign is a stage for his eloquence and charismatic gifts as a leader.
I am often asked, "What's he like?" If you really want to know, read Dreams From My Father. It's all in there, and it's a wonderful piece of writing in its own right.
When we are done, his parting words are delivered with a dazzling smile: "OK, brother — take care."