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ED in '08: From Nonpartisan to Bipartisan?

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ED in '08's Roy Romer and Sen. Barack Obama have now entered the hugging phase, which brings me to the following question: How nonpartisan can an organization be when its leader and chief spokesman is so partisan?

Before Obama delivered his major education speech at a school outside of Denver on Wednesday, he got an enthusiastic introduction from former Colorado Gov. Romer, and a hug, as pictured in the AP photo above.

Romer, who is also the chairman of the nonpartisan ED in '08 campaign, introduced Ilinois Democrat as the "next president of the United States" and praised him with these words: "This is a man who has an ability to look at problems in a new way. We need that in this country."

Earlier this month, Romer, who is also a Democratic Party superdelegate, announced he was throwing his support behind Obama. At the ED in '08 blogger summit I attended earlier this month, Romer defended this by explaining that he was acting individually and not on behalf of ED in '08, fulfilling his role as a citizen in this democracy. He pointed out that Marc Lampkin, ED in '08's executive director, is a supporter of John McCain for president. (And Lampkin told me separately that he was helping raise money for the senator from Arizona and presumptive GOP nominee.)

But Wednesday, Romer took his role a step further by going out on the campaign trail and championing Obama before the senator made a major speech on education policy in Colorado, considered by many to be a "must-win" state for the Democrats in the general election.

Interestingly—and I'm not sure whether this was on purpose or not—Romer explained at the blogger summit that ED in '08 is "bipartisan." That's a subtle yet distinct difference from being nonpartisan. And sometimes, it's perception that really counts.

ED in '08 hasn't had much success getting the candidates to focus on education during the primary, which has so far focused on Iraq, sky-high energy prices, and worsening economic woes. Perhaps this is part of a larger strategy to get close to the inner circle of the campaigns in hopes of having more influence over the education debate. But how close is too close for a nonpartisan public awareness campaign?

(Photo caption and credit: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, right, hugs former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer before talking to students and invited guests during a town hall meeting in Thornton, Colo., on May 28. Jack Dempsey/AP)

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