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About 4,400 miles separate St. Louis and Paris Paris, France, that is, not Paris, Tennessee and that distance was matched by the reality gap over the telephone on Tuesday night. On one end, Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat challenging Republican Senator Jim Talent, was defending her campaign to a crowd of party faithful, who crowded around a speaker phone to quiz seven Democratic candidates running in tight races against Republican incumbents. The Missouri state auditor sighed down the line: "You have to be here to understand what it's like here."
It was hard to argue with that. From a Left Bank living room on a sumptuous Beaux Arts boulevard, you had to shut your eyes hard to picture the Ozarks. About 50 Democrats had squeezed into the Paris apartment for a fund-raising conference call organized by Democrats Abroad, joined by Democrats in Vienna, Strasbourg, London and Cambridge, England, in settings that no doubt were also jarringly different from St. Louis. In this audience, there was an obvious question a "litmus test," as one Paris Democrat put it for candidates: How would you have voted on last week's detainee bill, which allows for aggressive interrogation tactics to be used on terror suspects? "I probably would have voted yes," McCaskill said. Then, as the groans and jeers erupted from the European phone lines, she rushed to add: "I'm very uncomfortable about the lack of habeas corpus. But this was better than what the Bush Administration wanted." "Bulls---!" came a blunt retort from Paris.
In years past, candidates might not have bothered to make an international call to stump for money and votes from Americans across the world. Americans living abroad were not even permitted to vote in U.S. elections before the 1980s, and since then their ballots have been viewed by many of those living abroad as marginal to most races. Yet millions of Americans are living overseas these days an estimated 50,000 in Paris alone and the numbers are growing. This year some candidates have taken notice.
Even candidates whose campaigns are focused on local isues were eager to show off their international credentials on Tuesday night. "I lived in Japan for three years. I speak the language," said Daniel Seals, a 34-year-old African-American from Chicago (billed in advance of his call to the Paris crowd as possibly the next Barack Obama) who is trying to unseat Mark Kirk, the three-term Republican representative from Illinois' 10th Congressional District, in the city's tony North Shore suburbs. To the Americans in Europe, Seals was pitch-perfect, insisting that "Rumsfeld needs to go" and saying that it was time to overhaul energy policies, since "we are putting billions of tax dollars into supporting the oil companies."