SELMA, Ala. -- They worked off the same script Sunday. The Clintons -- former President Bill and White House hopeful Hillary -- claimed the legacy of the voting rights battles fought here 42 years ago in a bid for crucial African- American support.
"We have a Hispanic-American governor, Bill Richardson, who was in my Cabinet, running for president because of the promise of the Voting Rights Act," Bill Clinton said. "We have Sen. Obama running for president because of the promise of the Voting Rights Act. And we have the junior [New York] senator running for president because of the promise of the Voting Rights Act."
Earlier, from the pulpit of the First Baptist Church, Hillary Rodham Clinton said nearly the same thing -- word for word, but with some sort of an affected southern twang.
Together, the Clintons denied Barack Obama -- who would, if elected, be the first black president -- what seemed a few weeks ago a solo platform to show solidarity with the elders of the civil rights movement spawned when he was a toddler in Hawaii.
Moving out from the fund-raising-only shadows, Bill Clinton made his public debut in his wife's presidential campaign in a place infamous for its racist past. He showed his formidable stuff on the anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," marching again in Selma's annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee as he did in 2000 when he was president, one of many reasons his support among the nation's black voters has been strong, including during the darkest days of his Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment.
Bill Clinton displayed his electric star power from the moment he thrust himself into a crowd in front of the Brown Chapel AME Church to the remarks he made upon being inducted into the Voting Rights Hall of Fame -- an honor he only officially put on his schedule last Thursday, though I suspect it had been contemplated long before that.
"All the good speaking has been done by Hillary and Sen. Obama today already. I'm just sort of bringing up the rear," said Bill Clinton, underscoring that the road best taken Sunday by the Clintons was the high one.
Against that backdrop of extreme civility is a drive by the Clintons, who held hands during the march, to slow down and make the Obama team scramble to earn black support. Last week, Obama spokesman Bill Burton told me they had the endorsement of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who was beaten in the March 1965 Selma protests. On Sunday, Burton told me he was "mistaken."