WASHINGTON (AP) -- Cousin Pookie is back!
Now that it's election season again -- in Virginia and New Jersey, at least -- President Barack Obama has reintroduced one of his more enigmatic and intriguing characters.
"Go out and get your cousin, who you had to drag to the polls last November, Cousin Pookie," the president told a crowd this week in Norfolk, Va., where he called for a big turnout Tuesday for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds.
It apparently was Obama's first public mention of Pookie in more than a year, and his first as president.
Pookie's yearlong absence was typical of the mystery surrounding the supposedly unmotivated voter, whose gender and family status are unclear.
"You have to get your Aunt Pookie out to vote, and your Cousin Ray-Ray sitting on the couch," Obama told a Michigan crowd in October 2008.
Nine months earlier, he had told a South Carolina audience: "I need you to grab Cousin Pookie to vote; I need you to grab Ray-Ray to vote."
Two things about Pookie are consistent: Obama mentions her (or him) when urging largely black audiences to get out to vote; and the crowds roar in delight.
Just who is Pookie?
Obama has never explained. Earlier this year, Newhouse News Service interviewed authorities on black culture who generally agreed that Pookie represents a slightly disreputable but likable relative. As Duke University professor Mark Anthony Neal put it, Pookie is a "metaphor for kin ... who everybody knows is just a little trifling and a little lazy."
When Obama campaigns Sunday for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's re-election bid, maybe he can answer a pressing question: What happened to Ray-Ray?
Joke-telling isn't typical for Obama. But when he gets a crowd going, he'll depart from his prepared text for a few wisecracks, tailored to the audience.
Black college students dominated the Norfolk crowd, so the president veered toward vernacular.
"Yeah, girlfriend, I saw you," he said, teasing some high-fiving young women, whom he jokingly accused of jumping on the Obama bandwagon only after he had won the Iowa caucuses. The crowd ate it up.
In Miami, Obama used understatement on a tony crowd that paid $15,000 per person to dine in his presence (and fund Democratic congressional races).
"I was talking to some G-20 leaders who were kind of surprised on some of the debates about health care," Obama told them. "They were saying, 'Barack, why are these people running around putting a Hitler mustache on you? You're just trying to give health care to people.' I said, 'Yes, that's unusual."'
And almost every partisan audience gets a version of his mop story, which mocks the Republicans he accuses of leaving a big deficit and economic crisis when he took office.
He told the Miami group: "I'm mopping the floor, and the folks who made the mess, they're standing there saying, 'You're not mopping fast enough. You're not holding the mop the right way. It's a socialist mop."'
"You know what," Obama said, "just grab a mop!"
Obama has embraced ideas and hired former advisers to Bill Clinton, while distancing himself from George W. Bush on issue after issue. But Obama is more like his Republican predecessor in one regard: He tends to be punctual when traveling, sometimes getting so far ahead of schedule that aides, security agents and reporters scramble to adjust.
Clinton was notorious for falling hours behind schedule, as he spun yarns at fundraisers or played cards with friends. But Obama sometimes seems as eager to get home as Bush, who disliked sleeping in strange beds.
On a recent visit to Florida and Virginia, Obama left his Miami hotel 12 minutes ahead of schedule and virtually raced through his busy day. By mid-afternoon -- after two plane rides, two helicopter rides, several motorcades and a solar energy event -- he arrived nearly an hour early in Norfolk for the Deeds campaign rally.
Obama spoke for about 20 minutes, but still got back to Washington more than an hour ahead of schedule.
In Clinton's day? Unthinkable.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)