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Everyday movers, shakers

She got the scoop on Obama's 'bitter' gaffe

November 04, 2008|James Rainey

Among the tenets Americans hold dear is that anyone can grow up to become . . . famous. You thought we were going to say "president," didn't you? Don't be ridiculous.

Joe the Plumber, who went from small-town obscurity to overnight fame after his sidewalk encounter with Barack Obama became a centerpiece of John McCain's campaign rhetoric, has acquired an agent to manage his career as national celebrity.

There were other everyday Americans whose serendipitous interactions with the presidential candidates also made waves. Some abruptly changed the narrative by asking the unexpected question or provoking the unexpected comment. Others gave the candidate a story to tell Americans along the campaign trail. No one took off quite like Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher, Ohio's most famous nonlicensed plumber. But here, we celebrate them nonetheless.


Mayhill Fowler couldn't find a publisher. Not for her mystery novel. Not for the memoir about caring for her ailing mother-in-law. Not for any of it. But when the Huffington Post put out a call last year for citizen-journalists, the self-described "over-educated" mother of two discovered an outlet for her writing. It would be the vehicle that exposed one of Barack Obama's biggest gaffes of the campaign.

Fowler was reporting from an April fundraiser in San Francisco when the Democratic presidential candidate said there were some in small-town America who, "bitter" over lost jobs, tended to "cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them."

Her entry on the HuffPost's Off the Bus blog exploded across the Internet, exacerbated Obama's problems winning working-class primary voters and exposed Fowler to weeks of vitriol. Partisans could not get over the fact that Fowler, a Democrat and avowed Obama supporter, would use her access to a non-media event to expose their candidate.

Unnerved by the hate mail, Fowler remained on the campaign trail. She spent time with most of the major candidates -- recently attending a Sarah Palin rally in Roswell, N.M. -- and focused largely on the views of voters.

Fowler, 62, said she had no regrets about revealing the "bitter" comment, which Obama told the New York Times was "my biggest boneheaded move." She got more attention when she caught President Clinton lashing out at Vanity Fair writer Todd Purdum for his harsh profile of the former president.

"I knew I was going to cover the great election of my lifetime," Fowler said back home in Oakland. "I did. And there is tremendous satisfaction of that."

What's next? She plans a book about her experience as an Internet journalist. She's looking for a publisher.

-- James Rainey

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