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The Globe and Mail

Obama's campaign trail: Joe the Plumber, meet Purple Shirt Guy

A screengrab from Obama's campaign ad shows 'Purple Shirt Guy' Bob Howard.


Never has a purple shirt received so much attention.

U.S. political campaigns are mini-multimedia organizations, and there's an interesting video posted this week on YouTube by the official Barack Obama 2012 reelection campaign, which Tweeted: "When then-Senator Obama spoke against the Iraq war in 2002, Bob supported him. In 2012, he still does."

The campaign video features Chicago civil rights lawyer and Obama supporter Bob Howard, or the Purple Shirt Guy as he is described. He is someone who's made an appearance in campaign videos before.

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Again, this time, it is a similar, if more polished and rounded, theme: Senator Barack Obama opposed the Iraq war, candidate Barack Obama promised to end it, and President Barack Obama delivered.

And at every step, Mr. Howard has been present, wearing his purple shirt.

This will be a key Obama campaign theme in the 2012 reelection campaign. The U.S. has in Mr. Obama a strong commander-in-chief who has brought American troops home and eliminated its enemies.

"It makes him [Mr. Obama]a strong president. But it also makes him trustworthy," Mr. Howard says in the video.

The video will make Democrats misty-eyed for the 2008 campaign, but for most other Americans the Obama 2007 line "I am running to change our politics" will no doubt make some laugh out loud – especially in a week when President Obama decided to embrace the outside funding groups known as Super PACs as a key part of his reelection. In the past, he has opposed them.

The Purple Shirt Guy does not have quite the same ring as Joe the Plumber, the Ohio voter who confronted candidate Barack Obama in 2008 over his small business tax plan and became a celebrity in conservative circles.

No one has emerged on quite the same scale. But how campaigns try to capture the 'every man' or 'every woman' voter – someone who comes to symbolize the American struggle – will be interesting to watch.

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