09/18/2008 08:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hot Flashes From The Campaign Trail

Central and northern Minnesota is so flat it's almost concave. I grew up in Nebraska, so I know flat. It's not surprising that someone dreamed up the notion that the lakes up north are puddles created by Paul Bunyan's footsteps. I was musing on this flatness as I sat checking my email and waiting for my non-fat extra-foam latte at Brewed Awakenings coffee shop in Grand Rapids when I overheard the conversation of two women in their mid to late thirties.

"I really like Palin," said the one who continued to chew her gum while eating a muffin. "It's awesome what she did for her town, getting all that money".

"Yeah. It'd be cool if Rapids could get a new Rec center like that," said the other, who was wearing pajama bottoms and storm-trooper boots. "Jeez, how'd she manage to get all that money anyway?"

They sat down at the table next to me.

"It's called 'pork'," I said.

People in Minnesota are so nice and polite, they don't mind it when you insert yourself into their private conversations -- or at least they don't tell you if they do.

"Where I come from, we call that sort of money 'pork'," I said and then I showed them the following website, which had just been forwarded to me.

They indulged me with a laugh, so I had the courage to intrude some more.

"What do you think about Palin in general?" I asked.

"She's really neat," said pajama bottoms. "I hate the way they're all talking about her Down's syndrome child and it's not fair to talk about her pregnant daughter either. That's private and it's nobody's business."

"Who is 'they'?" I asked.

"You know, everybody -- on the internet and everywhere," she continued. "It's not right."

"I think she's cool," said gum-chewer. "I mean I could know her. She's just a regular sort of person."

"Yeah," I thought, "If you're a tundra-eating, abstinence-only teaching, condescending, irritatingly self-confident moose-hunting, creationist, liar." I bit my tongue. The caffeine was getting to me.

"Right," I said, breathing deeply and trying to recall the Buddhist chant I learned over the summer.

"She's got a great nose - sort of like Samantha's in Bewitched," muffin woman added. They returned to talking to each other.

Something perverse in me needed to hear more. I ordered another coffee, decaf this time. I listened to some talk about their church and the local museum. Grand Rapids is the birthplace of Judy Garland and the town has a museum dedicated to her even though they pretty much ran her and her family out of town in the 1930s when they suspected her father of being homosexual.

After a decent interval, I interrupted again. "Forgive me, but I'm not from around here and I'm really interested in the local politics. I was wondering how you think the people in this area will vote. Would you mind telling me how you think your friends and family are likely to vote?"

"Oh, Obama for sure. Everybody we know is for Obama. We're sick of the economy and the war and he's against the war. It's time for change and he's all about change."

Go figure.

Last week Real Clear Politics, which averages all the national polls, had McCain ahead by almost 3%. That was the bump from the Republican Convention. Not only was McCain up, Obama was down. Today Obama is back up by an average of 1.7%. The chart line has a nice upward tilt.