Obama’s Edwards Moment

In about eight minutes, Barack Obama will give a speech at a college gymnasium in El Dorado, Kan. As his campaign reminds us, “Obama’s grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, were Kansas natives. Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, was born at the military base in Ft. Leavenworth while his grandfather served in the Army during World War II.”

This theme—his family—will probably be a recurring element of the Super Tuesday sprint. Reminding people of Obama’s (ahem) white side plays down his immigrant background and emphasizes that he’s just as American as they are. The military ancestry is just an added bonus.

Until now, this sort of homecoming moment has been staged most notably by John Edwards. Last week, Edwards held an event in his home town of Seneca, S.C. And his background—growing up the son of a poor mill worker—has been a staple of both his presidential campaigns.

For Obama, however, the hometown pander is new. And given his mixed-race heritage, it’s likely to be more complicated. On the one hand, you could see it as an advantage: He can claim shared identity with blacks in South Carolina and whites in Kansas. But on the other, people might see it as an attempt to exploit his Kansas roots—a sort of retroactive carpetbagging—when he never really lived there. I’ll be curious to see if he’s greeted as a favorite son—or as some guy whose grandparents happened to live there.