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In Montana on the Fourth, a Barometer of Obama's Chances

Democratic candidate Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, watch a Fourth of July parade with daughters Malia, right, and Sasha in Butte, Mont.
Democratic candidate Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, watch a Fourth of July parade with daughters Malia, right, and Sasha in Butte, Mont. (By Jae C. Hong -- Associated Press)
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If anything, Obama may be heading the other way. He recently embraced a compromise bill on warrantless wiretapping that would effectively offer legal immunity to telecommunications companies that helped spy on customers. In 2006, after expressing misgivings, he voted for the Patriot Act's reauthorization, saying it was a marked improvement over the original bill of 2001. Obama voted for an emergency spending bill that included creating the Real ID, even though he said he opposed the identification card as an unfunded mandate. Support for the Real ID is in line with law-and-order voters.

Weaver said Westerners chafing at Bush-era intrusions are voters who seek dramatic change, and they are apt to side with Obama, even with his security votes.

But Obama appears to be tempering his iconoclastic streak in other ways as he enters the general-election race. Last fall, when Time magazine reporters asked him why he did not wear a flag on his lapel, like other politicians, Obama replied, "You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin. Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we're talking about the Iraq war, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest."

"Instead," he said, "I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism."

For much of this week, he has been sporting that pin, and Friday his family waved little American flags as he took in an old-fashioned parade of antique cars, fire engines, floats with beauty queens, and line dancers on a flatbed truck.

Sasha and Malia wore the pink cowboy hats that Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) had given them for Malia's birthday. A day after he stirred controversy by suggesting he may be willing to slow a withdrawal from Iraq after consultations with field commanders, the closest Obama got to that issue was the Shriners' Bagdad Burikka Patrol, with its mini cars and micro motorcycles.

"What makes this country great is not the size of our military, not the size of the economy, not the big buildings we have," Obama said. "What makes this country great is its people."

Obama's statements on Iraq on Thursday did not appear to cause much of a stir, even among Montanans who said they want the war to end. "He'll do what's pragmatic," said Mary Kay Burk, a Butte Democrat whose Republican husband plans to vote for Obama. "So it'll take longer than people think," she said with a shrug.


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