Senator Obama is listening intently to stories of hardship at a roundtable discussion here in Des Moines. The middle-aged women arrayed around the table are dealing with health care, education and social security issues that confront all Americans.
His posture expresses concern but he is unemotional.
It's not easy. Across the state, at event after event, people grab a few seconds of his time to speak of cancer, of addicted or obese children, of aging parents. A few break down in tears.
How a candidate handles such moments can be revealing. President Bush is a world class sympathizer. Ditto his predecessor. The first president Bush was more detached, as was John Kerry.
In Burlington the other day, a woman rose to ask Obama about national security, specifically about the "threat" from Iran and the need to negotiate "before we get blown up."
But as she poses the question she dissolves into sobs. Obama calls her up to him and hugs her as she buries her head in his shoulder. He defuses the moment with a touch of humor, calming the woman and settling the audience.
Campaign professionals know episodes like these can show the person behind the politician's mask. Sometimes for good. Sometimes not.
Obama seems able to strike the right balance between concern and bathos.
It is just a moment, but it can be a window through which voters gaze as they make up their minds.