Election Day

Dick Durbin Bullish on Obama: Illinois Senator Touts His Own Karma

There’s ‘plenty of room’ for the president to hit and surpass 270 electoral votes, the Illinois senator tells Lloyd Grove.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois was bullish on Barack Obama’s prospects as Election Day drew to a close.

“We’ll take that,” he said with a jolly laugh after I read him the preliminary exit-poll results from the battleground states. They hinted at good news—so far, at least—for the renewal of the Obama family’s lease on the White House.

“The states that are close, or where Romney is a point or two ahead, are exactly the states I expected them to be,” Durbin told me. “So there’s plenty of room there for the president to reach 270 [electoral votes] and surpass it.”

Durbin, the assistant majority leader in the Senate, where he was Obama’s mentor before the latter ran for the White House, also was optimistic about Tim Kaine’s Senate race against George Allen in Virginia, and somewhat upbeat about Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to knock off Scott Brown in Massachusetts. “I spoke to her yesterday and she felt positive and nervous,” he said. As for Obama, “If the president maintains a lead in each of those states [including Ohio and Wisconsin] that he has right now, he’ll be reelected,” Durbin predicted.

On the other hand, even as he did a verbal jig, he conceded that early exit-poll results don’t mean all that much. “Of course not!” he said brightly.

Durbin said he hadn’t yet spoken to the president on Tuesday—instead he checked in with political guru David Axelrod—and noted that Obama was unavailable for part of the day due to a pick-up basketball game.

“He went and played basketball—do I look like much of a basketball player?” the short, stout senator demanded. Taking a proprietary pride in Obama’s success, he pointed out that “I was there in the beginning” of his meteoric rise. “People said, ‘Goodness gracious! Running against Hillary at that point in his career?’ But he did, he won in Iowa, and went all the way.”

The low point of the current campaign was Obama’s first debate against Romney, and Durbin said he felt it keenly. “Denver was tough. I thought, that’s not the Barack I know. I then decided to plant myself in the spin room at every debate afterwards, and I did. And maybe my involvement had something to do with the karma, but he kept getting better and better.”