Obama family on the trail

Remember how you spent your 9th birthday?  Malia Obama, the 9-year-old daughter of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, spent it in Iowa on the campaign trail today with her dad.  Malia’s younger sister was along for the ride, too, and Obama told reporters that on the drive from Oskaloosa to Pella, he played cards with his daughters and beat them at UNO. The girls met up with some playmates in Pella — the children of Dan and Heather Vroom. (A trampoline in the backyard of the home was a popular place for the younger set.)

The Vrooms hosted an Obama campaign event in their front yard.  The Vroom’s 1909 home in Pella features a photo-op kind of front porch.  There are no rails on the porch (I know, safety hazard) and a tall-backed white wooden rocking chair sat at the ready.  A couple of American flags were flying from the front of the home, with a little bit of red, white and blue bunting thrown in for color on the home which featured a kind of blue-gray paint.

Pella is a predominantly Republican town and some of the Democrats milling about the yard before Obama and his entourage arrived joked that they had no idea there were so many Democrats in the city.  When I asked one person if he knew of any Republicans who were attending the event, he pointed across the street to where folks were standing in a yard.  Later, as Obama began his remarks to the crowd Obama gave a "shout out" to the mayor of Pella — who waved to the crowd in the Vroom’s yard from his (the mayor’s) vantage point in the driveway of the home across the street.

To placate the crowd as it waited (you would not use the phrase "warm up the crowd" on a day like today in Iowa), an Obama campaign staffer stood on the porch, took the microphone and quizzed the crowd on "Obama trivia."  For example:  What major non-political award did Obama win in 1996?  (A grammy) What is Obama’s favorite sport?  (Basketball)  The prizes for correct answers were an Obama campaign t-shirt and gift certificates to a place called "Smokey Joe’s."  (I think it’s a coffee shop, not a pool hall where smokers may congregate.  And yes, the campaign of a person trying to quit smoking was giving out gift certificates to a place called "Smokey."

Obama held a news conference before in the backyard before he spoke to the crowd.  "Goodness graciious.  Look at all of you alls," Obama said as he walked out of the back door of the Vroom’s home.  You can listen to the 16 minute news conference by clicking on the audio link at the bottom of this Radio Iowa story.

In that news conference, as in an interview with AP’s Mike Glover, Obama made the assertion that change can’t just be a campaign slogan — a reference to rival Hillary Clinton who has been appearing at rallies this week with her husband festooned with banners reading "Ready for Change!  Ready to Lead! TOUR"  (Yes, two exclamation points and all caps on the word TOUR.)

The crowd in the front yard started clapping in unison a couple of times as Obama stood in the backyard answering reporters’ questions.  Here’s the Radio Iowa story focused on the event that followed in the front yard.  At the conclusion of Obama’s speech, Aretha Franklin began singing "I ain’t no psychiatrist.  I ain’t no doctor with degrees, but it don’t take" — at which point Obama came back to the microphone.

"Hold on.  Before the music comes on," Obama began.  "..There is one thing I forgot to mention.  Folks in Iowa, you guys are discriminating shoppers of presidential candidates.  You kind of like to lift the hood and kick the tires and take us for a test drive, and ‘Yeah, I like that one but I haven’t tried out the Edwards model.  I’m going to try to sort of check that out but I want you to know number one, I would love for all of you to Caucus for me so we’ve got these supporter cards and if you’re willing to support us, please fill one of these out." 

While much of that news conference had been focused on Clinton comparisons, Obama was drawing a comparison with Edwards who now leads in most polls of likely Iowa Caucus-goers.

Afterwards, I had a chance to wait inside the air conditioned Vroom home for a quick Q&A with Obama.  The posse of kids were having a high time (there was much giggling and a fair amount of cookies had apparently been consumed). At one point a few of the kids ran out onto the front porch in order to be in the FOX News camera shot as Carl Cameron reported live from the Vroom’s front yard.

My question of Obama:  You’ve raised a lot of money.  Does that in any way provide a challenge for you in maintaining an underdog or insurgent campaign?  How do you maintain that by being the king of fundraising?

"Well, what’s been interesting is how we raised that money — without taking federal lobbyists’ money, without taking PAC money.  Ninety percent of our donations are $100 or less.  We’ve got 250,000 people giving us money, which is unprecedented so what it signals is the fact that when ordinary people participate, they can take on the special interests and that is completely consistent with our message which is there’s a lot of power out there, we just haven’t tapped it," Obama said.  "There’s a lot of desire on the part of the American people to bring about change, we just need to channel it and that’s what we’re trying to do during the course of this campaign."

A reporter for the Pella Chronicle asked Obama for his impressions of Pella, then Dr. Bob Leonard of KNIA/KRLS radio asked Obama the following: the classic profile of a terrorist is a young, disenfranchised individual.  That demographic just changed in Scotland and in London recently.  What are the implications of that, doctors being charged with terrorism?

"Well, it indicated the depths of the ideological battle that we have to engage in right now between people who have annihilistic, negative view of the west and modern life and all that it stands for and the vast majority of people who just want to raise families and participate in this modern world and that, you know, what is absolutely clear is that terrorists are not just those who are coming from the poor or the Arab streets, they’re people who’ve gotten caught up in a mind-set that is anti-western and to address that requires us to make sure that we are hunting down those who are engaged in this activity, that we’ve got sound human intelligence, that we’re infiltrating these cells. It’s still means that we also have to send signals to the Muslim world, the Arab world that we can live in peace and that we have their interests at heart and that we invest in schools, for example, in places like Pakistan so that kids aren’t learning in madrasahs and we avoid things like Abu Ghraib which besmirch our reputation in the world, that we shut down Guantanamo and we give due process where possible," Obama said. "All those things help either lessen the climate of hatred or encourages a climate of hatred and I think, unfortunately, over the last six years we haven’t managed to lessen that climate of hatred."

Obama’s staff then said it was time for him to go.  As we were taking our leave, one of those "it’s a small world" moments occured.  Dr. Leonard told Obama his wife’s father had been a roommate of Obama’s father at the University of Hawaii and had "fond memories of your mother."  Obama staff man Tommy Vietor took down the name and contact information of Dr. Leonard’s father-in-law (Ogle is his last name, as I recall, and he lives in New Mexico) so that Senator Obama could give him a call.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. correction says

    It’s Smokey Row, probably gave some coupons away on the wind-up in Osky. It’s a South Central Iowa soda fountain ‘chain’ with a spot to open in Des Moines sometime soon. I doubt there was much smoking going on, I think they went smoke free this past year.
    Thanks for covering Dr. Leonard’s question, a good one, on the potential shift in how we see our outback docs (this could be an interesting political story in Iowa given the number docs on work visas). Obama’s response was poised and not over scripted or overly telling, good politics and good reporting. I also appreciated the personal trivia note at the end.
    Good coverage of the event, you even got the translated version of y’alls in the story.