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Catch a Rising Star, continued

Granholm visits with workers
Granholm stops to visit with workers at the Ingham County Health Department.

In a roundtable of health department officials, Granholm is so focused on the people whose world is public health that not one flicker of distress crosses her face when one of them talks about how they would handle an E. coli outbreak at McDonald's and the intestinal catastrophes that would result. "Talk to me about the vertical partnerships you've established," she says. She speaks about "FQHCs" and "vulnerable populations" and "best practices." And there are lots of "ahs," the recognition that she is one of them, that she has worked on it and has learned and is not going to walk into a room full of health officials or educators or businesspeople or union reps without knowing their language, without caring about what they care about.

She can just as comfortably and credibly walk into bohemian lofts and avant-garde galleries in a renovated section of Lansing and pronounce them "cool" places. Someone asks if she means that the temperature's lower there than in the blistering heat outside. That's true, she says, but what she means is cool, like a great place to hang out in.

In Lansing, the state capital, Mayor David Hollister has thrown his support to Granholm, despite the urging of many state Democrats to stay neutral in the race. On a tour that highlights the renewal of his city, he talks about why he has.

"She's tough. She's smart," he says. "I think she'll be a symbol for our next generation of workers. I think she will be a real invigorating element in our body politic. It's hands down, it's not even close, in her ability to communicate and energize people."

Local observers have compared her to Bill Clinton, charmed with the ability to connect with people of different ages, backgrounds, races, and cultures. She does it physically: winking, touching people's arms, hugging them, looking into their eyes, and using their names; and she even does it vocally: modulating tones from a whisper that draws you closer to a thumping crescendo that makes you sit up. She does it also by connecting with people's values: touching on family, justice, and faith. During the course of the day, when we talk about the importance of religion in her life, she quotes Matthew in the Bible, chapter and verse. She speaks about her clerkship with Damon Keith, an African-American appeals court judge known as a champion of civil rights. She lived in Detroit, where, she recalls, she collected signatures for petitions on the Detroit school board when she was nine months pregnant. But she is also the new kind of Democrat exemplified by the former president, embracing a progressive social agenda while espousing belt-tightening in state government and "growing the economic base."

The comparison can be less flattering too; opponents have accused her of political expediency, of having an aversion to specifics, of lacking real convictions. But, she points out, she has more copiously detailed positions than any other candidate in the race. On the environment, health care, education, she has outlined hundreds of proposals throughout the campaign. She developed some of the ideas from just the kind of roundtables (another with educators came later) that she participates in today.

Most Harvard Law graduates, of course, don't have to defend their bona fides. But, because of where she was raised and what she looks like, Granholm--at least in this election--does.

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