Obama delivers pizzas to volunteers at his campaign office in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Reuters)
Washington, Oct. 15: Like a school child looking for excuses not to do homework, Barack Obama has been trying to play truant during preparations for his second debate with Republican Mitt Romney tomorrow which could decide the length of the US President’s tenancy in the White House.
Romney has been hunkered down at his Boston home engaged in mock debates with Ohio Senator Rob Portman playing the role of the President. But Obama yesterday managed to get away from his own preparations for tomorrow, carrying four boxes of pizza himself for Democratic Party volunteers working at a campaign office in Virginia.
Obama did the same in Nevada a fortnight ago when he was supposed to be sequestered for three days totally devoted to preparations for the first debate with Romney in Colorado. He then described debate preparations as a “drag” and the results of such an attitude showed when he faced off against his Republican challenger.
Romney appeared for the first debate having taken part in 23 mock debates with Portman while Obama took to the stage in Denver with just five such mock debates with Senator John Kerry who stood in for Romney during the preparations.
Obama comprehensively lost the first debate to Romney, watched by 67 million people, turning the presidential campaign on its head and reversing the President’s lead in opinion polls to Romney’s advantage.
This time, Obama is camping at a luxurious golf resort in colonial Williamsburg, much to the annoyance of the resort’s other well-heeled weekenders, some of whom complained that they had to pass through security checkpoints even to get to their breakfast.
An indication of the disconnect between the President, whom his detractors falsely describe as a “socialist” and the other inmates was obvious because most of the other lodgers had gone there for the weekend for an event called “Ferraris on the James” and a medical conference.
Under the given political and economic environment in the US, Ferrari-owners are unlikely to be Obama supporters. Nor are people associated with the health industry who can afford to hold their conference in a golf resort of stand-alone villas, not just rooms or cottages.
Carrying the four pizza boxes, Obama entered his campaign office with a cheerful “Hello everybody, hello”, according to accounts in the local media. His volunteers were, of course, energised by the surprise because they had not been told with any certainty that they would have an encounter with the man they were fighting to keep in the White House.
Most of the volunteers were working on a phone bank, making calls to persuade Virginians to support Obama and to make sure that their papers were in order so that they could get to vote on election day next month.
One reporter tagging along with Obama came across a volunteer from Europe who had crossed the Atlantic to campaign for the President. Four years ago many Europeans did just that but there are far fewer of them this year.
Obama then sat down at the phone bank himself while he asked the campaigners to eat the pizza while it was still fresh. And he started making random campaign calls himself to the disbelief of several Virginians who were incredulous that the President was on the line himself asking for their vote. For a change, it was not the usually annoying robot call with a recorded message. For Virginia voters, it was a rare and unexpected experience, while for Obama, it was an opportunity to get away from his preparations for debate.
However, Obama did not go to the Ferrari show. Even if he wanted to, his advisers would not have allowed him to do so. Being seen amidst Ferraris and their owners would have made Obama not indistinguishable from Romney, who unlike the President, is identified with the one per cent of America’s richest people against whom the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has generated much resentment.
In 2004, an attempt to boost then Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s “macho” image by showing him at a duck shoot in hunting gear had a backlash which turned off several voters.
But Obama’s Secret Service detachment made the most of the Ferraris on the premises, local media reported. That Kerry was seen at several locations at the resort lent credence to the belief that Obama was playing truant and not devoting as much attention to debate preparations as his aides would have liked.
A reporter who followed the President to his pizza date with campaign volunteers asked about his debate preparations. Obama did not show his exasperation unlike a fortnight ago, but said instead: “It is going great.”
Obama’s campaign adviser David Axelrod told Fox News yesterday that the President “is going to make some adjustments on Tuesday”. He will “be aggressive in making the case for his view of where we should go as a country”.
Former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs acknowledged “the President was disappointed in his own performance. He did not meet his expectations.”