Sen. McCaskill nervous about convention speech

Sunday, August 24, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Snagging a prime time speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention is impressive enough for most politicians.

But when Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill takes the podium in Denver on Monday night, she'll be in even rarer company. Her remarks will come right before headline speaker Michelle Obama.

That kind of pressure can make even seasoned public speakers a bit jittery.

"I thought I was beyond getting nervous about giving a speech because I've given thousands," McCaskill said. "But I'm definitely nervous about this speech."

One reason for those nerves is the massive 21,000 audience expected at the Pepsi Center, plus a national television audience of millions. Her 10-minute speech -- to be shown between 9 and 9:30 p.m. -- will focus on the economic and family hardships Barack Obama and his wife have had to overcome to reach their status in life.

"The path that these two people have traveled is uniquely American," McCaskill said. "I want to bring it down to a pretty basic level about who they are and why they represent the best of us."

She'll also make her case that Barack Obama "has more in common with most Missouri families than John McCain does."

It will be a family affair, with McCaskill being introduced at the podium by her three children: Austin, 20, Maddie, 19 and Lilly, 16.

It's a long way from where she stood just two years ago -- a state auditor, little known outside Missouri, trying to unseat an incumbent Republican senator.

McCaskill's choice speaking time may, in part, be a reward for her early support for Obama's presidential campaign, back when most congressional lawmakers were behind New York Sen. Hillary Clinton or staying on the sidelines.

McCaskill also showed during the campaign that she's a natural in the media spotlight, ready to deliver Obama's talking points in polished sound bites on national news shows and stumping before crowds around the country.

So what does she consider the most important theme of her speech?

"We've tried it John McCain's way for 7 1/2 years and it hasn't turned out very well," McCaskill said of Obama's GOP rival. "We've tried a foreign policy that's just focused just on Iraq, we've tried economic policies that are all about tax breaks for the very wealthy, we've tried giving big oil everything they wanted. Frankly, the results have really kind of stunk."

She had finished a rough draft of the speech by late Friday night and was awaiting comments from Obama's staff.

The only other decisions left were which of her children would do the talking and what she's going to wear.

"I hope my two sisters would quit arguing over what I should wear," she said. "There's a lot of stress going on."

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