Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., was just a lad when he and his father saw thousands of supporters rally for President Harry Truman in Hibbing during the 1948 presidential campaign.
The energy of that come-from-behind Democratic victory is what comes to mind for the 17-term congressman as he marvels at the crowds that Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has attracted - including the crowd that was expected at Tuesday night's rally at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"I see with Obama the enthusiasm and excitement of that era of the organizing days of the union movement," the Chisholm native said.
Oberstar, 73, originally was a supporter of former Sen. John Edwards, but endorsed Obama a few months ago.
Rep. Jim Oberstar
Campaigning in Brainerd on Tuesday, he said it's time for the party to unite behind Obama. The presumptive nominee surprised Oberstar on the House floor recently and Oberstar talked briefly about his plans for multi-billion dollar infrastructure improvements that he would like to champion next year as chairman of the Transportation Committee.
The money would encompass improvements for highways, aviation, transit, Amtrak and wastewater treatment upgrades.
"We have needs everywhere," Oberstar said, explaining the stimulus package of quick-starting projects that he estimated would provide 770,000 jobs in 90 days and give the economy a shot in the arm.
"When Anderson Brothers (Construction) out here bids on projects it puts people to work, you see benefits," he said as an example.
Much of the money, Oberstar said, is already in federal funds, but has not been spent because of inaction by the Senate or the threat of a presidential veto.
Oberstar said the keys to achieving his legislative goal would be for Democrats to retain control of the House and strengthen their majority in the Senate and a receptive president.
"It would be such a delight to get all these things done with Senate funding and a president who will sign our bills," he said.
Oberstar indicated he expected Al Franken to win U.S. Senate endorsement from state Democrats next weekend and said he would support him, even though he was disappointed at the release recently of a satirical Playboy column Franken wrote years ago.
"That was so amateurish and so silly," Oberstar said. "He needs to disown it."
Overall, he sees Franken as an attractive candidate with a good grasp of public policy issues.
"I know he'll be a vigorous candidate," he said.
Another priority he hopes Democrats can pursue is to begin to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq and return to a peacetime economy.
"Iraq has to feel confident that their future is in their hands," he said. "They're capable of self-government."
An exit from Iraq would allow the U.S. to concentrate on stabilizing Afghanistan.
While in the Brainerd area, Oberstar talked with members of Cass County and Crow Wing County lake improvement districts and was impressed with their volunteer efforts to keep invasive species from spreading in the state's lakes. He hopes to be able to obtain support for their efforts from the Minnesota Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
First elected to Congress in 1974, Oberstar retains his enthusiasm for his job despite serious surgeries involving his neck and his hip in recent months. He has recovered to the point where he biked 24 miles on Sunday on his annual Bike with Jim event on the Paul Bunyan Trail and has logged a total of 386 miles since his last surgery.
"I'm in good health," he said. "I feel great."
Republicans have not yet endorsed an opponent for Oberstar.
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.