By Michael Powell
Unscripted moments are endangered species as the presidential campaigns swing out of primary season and into the general election.
So the ears perk up a touch when Barack Obama, standing in the Flying Star Cafe Commissary in Albuquerque, takes questions from 25 or so distinctly unscripted women.
He pointed to 23-year-old Eirinn Sanchez.
“You’re a very charismatic person,” she tells him, “and I’ve been paying attention to the way that people react to you just one-on-one and in general when you’re speaking to groups of people. Politicians generally suffer from a lot of talking mouth syndrome.”
At this point, the candidate looks a touch more closely at Sanchez, and offers a studiously noncommittal “uh-huh.”
“You can say a lot of stuff to us,” she said.
“Meaning they don’t follow through?” Obama asks.
“How do you ground yourself,” she continues. “How do you keep yourself true to the things you say?”
Obama nods, looks around, glances at the floor. This is not a question for which the candidate has a file card stored in the mental Rolodex. He begins by talking about the now familiar markings of his life, from his decision to work as a community organizer to his decision to work for a civil rights firm after leaving Harvard Law School. Then he mentions that he appeared on “The Daily Show” and the cover of Rolling Stone and that was cool enough but it has a very short half-life.
But this answer seems a touch rote, not really satisfying Sanchez or the candidate. He reaches into the pocket of his black slacks, pulling out a mound of trinkets and tchotchkes.
“I have all these things that people give me,” he says. ``This eagle that a Native American woman gave me, this woman who gave me her lucky poker chip.
“They hand these to you say and say, y’know, 'I want you to do well but I want you to help me,' ” he says. “A guy I met wanted to buy me a beer in Pennsylvania even though he had just lost his job and couldn’t afford to put gas in his car and do a job search.”
He falls silent just a second, rummaging for meaning in these objects. He is describing people who are forced to play life’s game with no net below.
“If you are asking them to vote for you,” he says. “If you are asking for their trust, you better be serious. You better not over-promise.”
© The New York Times. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in The New York Times.