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This early post-election period is a great chance to look back at some important untold stories from the campaign, and the Kansas City Star just published one such story about how Senator Claire McCaskill became, in the words of one Obama campaign staffer, Obama's "most reliable surrogate" during the long and tough campaign.  The article offers a lot of little-reported details about how McCaskill and Obama developed a strong collegial relationship, and how McCaskill provided vital support to the Obama campaign at some critical moments.

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I have to start out by saying that one of the highlights for me of the 2006 elections was watching McCaskill defeat Jim Talent for the Missouri Senate seat.  I spent 10 years living in Missouri and moved away a few months before the election, thinking there was no chance that the state's voters would put her in the Senate.  Looking back, I realize that her victory was an early signal that the country was ready for change.  

It turns out that Obama played a role in McCaskill's Senate run that I never knew about.  The two first met in the spring of 2005, when McCaskill traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk to Senate Democrats who were urging her to run against Talent.  Obama was one of the many senators that McCaskill talked to, and their exchange stood out in her mind.

McCaskill said Obama talked about the personal side of being a senator.

“He was already kind of iconic,” she said. “I assumed he’d show up with an entourage. He showed up by himself and immediately started talking about the impact on your family. We talked about my kids and his kids. He understood what I was worried about.

One thing I forgot about McCaskill's Senate run until I read this article is that Obama made three trips to Missouri in 2006 to stump for McCaskill.
On Barack Obama’s third trip to Missouri in 2006 to help Claire McCaskill win a Senate race, she urged him to run for president.

“We’re talking about it,” he confided after a rainy Sunday night rally in St. Louis, two days before the election. “Win on Tuesday and we’ll talk more.”

McCaskill did indeed win, and she never forgot how Obama helped her out. McCaskill and Obama worked together in the Senate on ethics reform and correcting the problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  They shared an interest in preferring "practical solutions to sometimes fruitless partisanship."  The Star reveals that the staffs of the two senators have been close, "regularly checking with each other on their bosses’ political temperatures on upcoming bills."

One thing I didn't know until reading the Star article is that McCaskill wanted to endorse Obama as soon as he entered the presidential race in February 2007 - after she had been a senator for barely a month - but her advisors cautioned her to wait so that she would not risk alienating the three senior senators — Clinton, Biden and Dodd — who were also in the race.  Instead, she helped out Obama in less visible ways, such as taking some of his turns when he was scheduled to preside over the Senate, so that he could leave town to campaign.

In hindsight, it turns out that the caution from McCaskill's staff to hold off on endorsing Obama was better advice than any of them realized at the time.  McCaskill ended up endorsing Obama at a pivotal moment in the campaign: five days after his devastating loss to Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary.

McCaskill was the first Democratic woman in the Senate to back him.  Not only that, but McCaskill was a trailblazing woman in her own right - the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Missouri, the first female Jackson County Prosecutor, the daughter of the first woman elected to the Columbia (MO) City Council - and here she was going against the run of the first woman with a good chance of becoming president.  It was undoubtedly one of the most important endorsements that Obama received during the entire campaign.

She was a loose brick in an otherwise solid wall of support for Clinton from female colleagues...

“Sen. Obama understood very clearly the risk she took,” (Obama campaign spokesmen Josh) Earnest said. “Her endorsement was really, really important, being a woman, when he was in a contested primary with the most popular woman in the Democratic Party.”

Once McCaskill endorsed Obama, she worked tirelessly for the President-Elect on the campaign trail and the talk show circuit.  The Star notes that she became one of his "most visible and nimble defenders."  We all saw her time and time again stumping for Obama on TV, and she was a consistent, strong,  unflappable, "no drama" cheerleader for Obama.  I rarely saw McCaskill mess up or get rattled.  And in the primary in particularly, the symbolism of a capable white female senator from a swing state speaking out for Obama could not be understated.
"She was probably the most reliable surrogate, even in contentious settings like going on Fox News, even in times when the narrative wasn’t even great, like the Rev. (Jeremiah) Wright turmoil," said Josh Earnest.
McCaskill tends to downplay any influence she will have with Obama once he is in the White House.  But outside observers disagree, noting that she will now be a key person to watch in the Senate.
"She goes from a backbencher just learning her role to someone who now can be one of the leaders of the Obama agenda in the Senate, somebody who will be looked to as a bellwether," said Brian Darling, director of Senate relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a former Senate Republican aide.
But don't just take it from a GOP hack.  Obama himself has revealed that Claire McCaskill is someone he is going to count on in the future.
"There are very few people who are closer to me, who I have relied on more for counsel or advice," Obama told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in June. "Should I be successful, she will be somebody who has the utmost access to the Obama administration."
My partner and I had the opportunity to meet Claire McCaskill about four years ago, and we found her to be warm, personable and caring as well as having a no-nonsense approach to getting things done.  We liked her immediately.  As far as politicians go, I'd be thrilled to have someone like Claire McCaskill carrying the water for our President in the Senate.  If nothing else, it will be a refreshing and much-needed CHANGE from all those GOP slimebags pushing W's destructive agenda in Congress.  
Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to davidkc on Fri Nov 21, 2008 at 07:00 AM PST.

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