Waiting For Obama

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Anyone who wants to be among the first to know Barack Obama's vice presidential choice can sign up for a text message from the campaign. Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich signed up and tells us why her "heart cramps with desire" every time her phone rings.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Barack Obama's promised to send a text message to announce his running mate, and those who signed up should receive the message just about anytime now. And for a lot of people who aren't reporters have their cell phones within arm's reach and the volume set on high. Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich also awaits the news. She wrote about the waiting game in an article titled "Barack's Using Me, But I'm In It For The Text." Let it please be him, oh dear God, she wrote in her column. But the last time my phone went brrring, it was Borders texting me a coupon for 25 percent off. So she just keeps hanging on.

Are you waiting for a text from Senator Obama? What do you think about this method or attracting voters' attention? Tell us about it, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Mary Schmich joins us from the studios of WBEZ in Chicago. Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. MARY SCHMICH (Chicago Tribune columnist): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: So, do you have one eye on your cell phone right now?

Ms. SCHMICH: You know, I was just looking for it when I came in here. I must have left it in the car. That's exactly how eager I am. But I know it couldn't go off in the studio, so.

CONAN: Well, this one time we would have let you carry it into the studio with you, so.

Ms. SCHMICH: I have to say, I did this as a column stunt. I am not a big texter. And so, when I did this, I signed on, I was sitting in my cubicle in The Tribune and I signed on to the Obama website to figure out exactly what I needed to do to be one of the first to know his VP pick. And as I was trying to figure it out, I had to call my colleague across the aisle over and say, hey Jason, come over here and help me figure out how to text. And then, he was helping me and I had to get my reading glasses in order to read the screen on the cell phone.

CONAN: Mary, it sounds like you may not be the target demographic here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCHMICH: But I was trying to write as if I were.

CONAN: And given that, is this ultimately cool?

Ms. SCHMICH: I feel cooler, I have to say. I feel cooler, I feel younger and, as I point it out in the column, you know, that's a big thing that a candidate like, you know, anybody in a relationship can give a person. Make me feel better about myself. And just knowing that I will be among the first to know makes me feel better.

CONAN: And you feel like - what was the reply when you sent the text message saying I'd like to be among the first to know?

Ms. SCHMICH: It sent me back something - welcoming me to Obama Mobile and telling me that I would be among the first to know his VP pick, and then it said STD charges apply. Please forward. And that's when I realized that this relationship was going to cost me some dough.

CONAN: Is there any relationship ever that hasn't cost you something?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCHMICH: Fortunately, this is my company's cell phone. So, this will cost me less than some relationships in my life.

CONAN: And the other thing is, you know that they're just in it for your cell phone number.

Ms. SCHMICH: Oh, absolutely. And that's part of the point I was trying to make in my jocular way and the column, was that, obviously, this is a way to get people who don't have landlines to add to their voter database.

CONAN: Because come election day, you could expect another message, "Come out and vote for Barack Obama."

Ms. SCHMICH: Right. I've already gotten another message from him. I forget what it asked me, but I believe it involved money. And then I got an email from him addressing me just as Mary.

CONAN: Oooh!

Ms. SCHMICH: Signing it just as Barack. So, it's all very intimate. And I have to say that even though I was doing this a bit as a column stunt - well totally as a column stunt - it does affect just a little bit. I do feel personally addressed and I do feel just a little tingle about it. So, I'm sure that for people who aren't as jaded as columnists are, it actually, is working pretty well.

CONAN: We're talking with Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich who is with us from the studios of our member station there in Chicago, WBEZ. And we're talking about waiting for that text message. Oh, it must be him. You're listening to Talk Of The Nation from NPR News. And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. Armando is with us. Armando, calling us from San Antonio, Texas, and are you waiting for a text message, too?

ARMANDO (Caller): Well, to be quite honest with you, I didn't sign up. But I called my brother who is coming in from Japan and asked him just to see if he gets that message and let me know. But really, my hope is that it's just the beginning and he'll be the first president to inform us on the status of our country through text messaging and it's the way that - people obviously communicate a lot more using technology. And I think that's the way to go.

CONAN: That's quite a possibility. But Mary, you would hope that if he's elected president, he doesn't text us the State of The Union message and then sign it, Barack.

Ms. SCHMICH: Right, or declare war via text message. There are really interesting, scary implications of this. But my current concern is just that he not text me and wake me up with this news, you know?

CONAN: Ah. So, you don't want him to decide at two o'clock in the morning.

Ms. SCHMICH: Well, because we were hearing that he was going to announce this in time for the morning news and talk shows. So, I went to bed the other night and I just cut my phone off because even though I'm waiting for Barack to text me, I do not want him to wake me up with this news.

CONAN: Armando, thanks very much for the call.

ARMANDO: Thank you.

CONAN: And are you waiting for this text message because you're a big liberal, a big Democrat?

Ms. SCHMICH: Me? Because I am a columnist. That's why.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SCHMICH: Really, I'm just curious. I just thought it would be interesting and kind of fun. So I'm in it for the fun. Not for love, for fun.

CONAN: You're expecting text message from John McCain any time soon?

Ms. SCHMICH: Well, I believe John doesn't text. As I pointed out in the column, I would be perfectly happy to be texted by John, if John were willing to text me, but apparently, he doesn't even Google, much less text.

CONAN: Let's get Susan on the line. And Susan is with us from Aiken in South Carolina.

SUSAN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Susan.

SUSAN: I find this sort of intriguing. I think it's just another gesture at being more of a pop icon and showing he's on the edge with the young people. I don't think it says anything about his ability to lead. And I'd like to point out, I'm an independent voter. I am not one or the other.

CONAN: Oh, it clearly says nothing about his ability to lead other than his ability to text.

SUSAN: Exactly. And you know, we are all going to know who the VP is 20 seconds after it comes out because it's going to be on all of the Internet news.

CONAN: It'll probably on the radio, too. And, Mary Schmich, you could just tune in to Chicago Public Radio and they'd let you know pretty quick.

SUSAN: Yeah. We have stinking music in our office so we don't get to hear the real radio.

CONAN: Oh, I see. Okay.

Ms. SCHMICH: But you know, I honestly do think that for the people - especially the young people who have signed up for this, I think there will be a little free song of something when they get it in their cell phones, even if they could get it off the radio or get it off the TV. I do think that it's a way of bonding with people.

SUSAN: I think that's true but what does it mean about him?

CONAN: Well..

Ms. SCHMICH: It just means he has very savvy people in his campaign, who understand that there is a demographic out there who operate on their cell phones and with whom he can bond that personal away.

CONAN: Susan, thanks very much for the call.

SUSAN: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to Crystal. Crystal, with us from Paducah, Kentucky.

CRYSTAL (Caller): Hi. My comment is, I work in politics, I'm a consultant, and a lot of my friends and colleagues are all kind of hitting themselves in the head, going, you know, why didn't we think of that? It's brilliant on the part of his campaign strategists to reach out to the younger voters and the newer voters that are really hard to get out to the polls. They're getting excited again and that's, you know, because they can do it from their mobile phone and that's just brilliant.

CONAN: And also a lot of those younger voters - well, they only have mobile phones. They don't have landlines where you can reach them.

CRYSTAL: Exactly, exactly. So they've finally got an outlet to reach those voters that are usually unreachable.

CONAN: So are you working on a campaign this year, Crystal?

CRYSTAL: I'm working on a couple right now, so.

CONAN: And might this be a tactic you adopt?

CRYSTAL: It would. I usually work on smaller campaigns and the cost involved and the software involved is pretty expensive. But, you know, it's definitely something that we are all kind of going, okay, how can we adapt this to work for us.

CONAN: And so, if you're running for city council or something like that, it might not be appropriate.

CRYSTAL: Not really. You know, you'd almost have to be running at something of a state level or larger just to make it cost effective.

CONAN: All right. Thanks, Crystal.

CRYSTAL: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's see if we could squeeze one more call in. This is Eunice(ph). Eunice, with us from Saudi Arabia.

EUNICE (Caller): Yeah, hi. I just wanted to make a small comment that although it doesn't indicate his ability to lead - I agree entirely with that - but it does indicate his ability to inspire and innovate. I haven't seen any of the other candidates come up with something so innovative, although it's been around for so many darn years. But he is the first one who actually did it, and that does indicate what he's got in store probably for the future and that makes me feel positive about it.

CONAN: I can't tell either of you - well, we just got this flash on the AP wire. Barack Obama says he has decided on a running mate but he won't say who.

EUNICE: Oh.

CONAN: Okay?

EUNICE: Okay.

CONAN: Eunice, thanks so much ...

SCHMICH: We'll call you on your cell, when we find out, Neal.

CONAN: Okay. Thank you very much, Mary Schmich. Mary Schmich is a columnist with the Chicago Tribune and joined us today from the studios of our member station in Chicago, WBEZ. The Democratic presidential candidate told U.S.A Today, he went with someone who is independent and would challenge him in the White House. Well, whoever that name is, we'll find out after all those other people find out by text message. You'll find out very quickly though if you listen to NPR News. Ira Flatow is here tomorrow with Science Friday. We'll see you again on Monday. I am Neal Conan. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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