Des Moines, Iowa -- Oprah Winfrey, meet your weekend competition: A cloture vote on a motion to proceed to the Senate energy bill.
Sen. Barack Obama is supposed to kick off a two-day tour with the talk-show goddess at a Saturday rally in downtown Des Moines scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Central time. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants Obama and the three other Senate Democrats running for president to spend Saturday morning in the Capitol, to help swing what for now appears to be a too-close-to-call procedural vote. At stake is an ambitious energy package that includes provisions to expand the use of renewable electricity sources and increase fuel efficiency for vehicles.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the vote is expected to take place around mid-morning, likely 10:30 a.m. at the latest. That gives Obama a reasonable travel window -- assuming the weather cooperates. At the moment, the Des Moines forecast for Saturday is the dreaded "wintry mix."
Sen. Chris Dodd already has cancelled four Iowa events on Thursday and Friday so he can fly back to D.C. to make another procedural vote slated for Friday, on a gigantic, subsidy-rich farm bill. Democratic Senate aides are less optimistic that even with full attendance, the legislation can reach the 60-vote threshold need to overcome GOP procedural objections (the energy bill needs 60 votes, too). But as Dodd put it, "the last thing you want to have happen," with the Iowa caucuses less than a month away, "is to miss a vote that has such a huge potential impact on this state"
No word yet on whether Dodd's Democratic competitors will make similar schedule adjustments. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joseph Biden have Iowa campaign events scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Obama is supposed to attend a benefit concert in Chicago on Friday night, then head to Iowa for what could prove to be the splashiest campaign events of the year: Oprah rallies in Des Moines on Saturday afternoon and in Cedar Rapids on Saturday evening.
Reid warned the '08 candidates last month of a potential legislative collision, with the Senate trying to wrap up its business for the year, just as the pre-Christmas campaign rush begins to peak. Obama already has learned the hard way that missing votes can make for awkward moments on the trail. Earlier this fall, he had already left town for a Democratic debate when Reid called a vote on a controversial Iran resolution. Obama opposed the measure in principle, but was hampered in his ability to criticize Clinton for supporting it -- because he just wasn't there.
"Life's all about making tough decisions," said Manley. "It gets down to the age-old question, are they presidential candidates first, or senators?"