On morning of big speech, Obama mentor makes his pitch to Jersey

DENVER – The affable salesman from the Midwest landed on the outskirts of town here with a bright smile and anecdote-laden speaking style that even the most bleary-eyed early morning Democrats responded to through the haze.

If the junior senator from his home state is the glamorous superstar, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) can claim the mantle of progressive, happy warrior work horse, and he kicked off his breakfast address to the New Jersey delegation today by noting how much he liked the deli cuisine that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-Ill.) introduced him to when Menendez hosted Durbin one day in Hoboken.

He would get a standing ovation here, this politician who looks like an actor who would insist on playing Willie Loman asthe guy who plays out a happy ending, in what amounted to a nearly perfect set-up when Gov. Jon Corzine prepped the crowd for his onetime Senate colleague.

"If you want to know how we get through healthcare, it’s going to be through the leadership of Dick Durbin," Corzine said of Durbin. "If you want to know how we’re going to change our foreign policy, it’s going to be through the leadership of the majority whip."

Obama calls Durbin his mentor and the older legislator responds publicly in the role of witness to what he sells as American excellence. Tonight he will introduce his friend and the Democrats’ presidential nominee at Invesco Field.

"My four minutes of greatness," Durbin cracked.

He was here to build some feeling for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), and his unpretentious style worked well with the Jersey crowd, whom he loosened early with a Sinatra reference.

Laying his foundation with the evocation of Ol’ Blue Eyes, Durbin segued to his version of a superstar Obama.

"You couldn’t find a Democrat in Freeport with a flashlight," he told the crowd of a trip he once took to some little Illinois town, where people crossed state lines to mob Obama.

Durbin realized early Obama had the "it" factor, and when he urged him to run for president, the younger man wondered about Clinton and how he could defeat the New York juggernaut.

"‘You’ll make a difference,’" Durbin told Obama. "‘You’ve got to do it. Even if you lose you can’t lose. This is your time and you have something important to say.’ He told me he’d think about it, and four weeks later he told me, ‘I must have caught Michelle in a weak moment, let’s do it.’"

The campaign impressed Durbin, particularly Obama’s bounce-back after New Hampshire and his long-slog stamina through the succeeding months, and he had the crowd the whole speech as he would down finally with the clinching argument the buyer can't resist.

"We are going to send George W. Bush in his pickup truck back to Crawford, Texas," he cried to roars. "It’s about time!"

On morning of big speech, Obama mentor makes his pitch to Jersey