Did the sense of the occasion grip Obama?
Yes, never mind his cool-kid persona. As election day neared, Obama undeniably turned nostalgic and kept flagging a pile of “lasts”.
With each passing day, Obama took note every time he passed a milestone.
“This is my last debate prep practice,” he said at Camp David.
“This is my last walk-through,” he said, touring a debate stage.
“This is my last debate,” he said after squaring off a third time with Mitt Romney.
“You can see the nostalgia, the wistfulness, setting in,” said Dan Pfeiffer, one of his longest-serving advisers and now the White House communications director. “The focus here is winning and making the case, but the last campaign of a man’s life — you every once in a while pause and think about that.”
No, don’t ask. Obama did not say those were the last days of his presidency.
The President did contemplate the possibility of defeat, but said he and his family “would be fine no matter what the outcome”, said Kimberly Cathey, a Democrat who dined with him.
Did he shed a tear on Monday night?
During Obama’s final, rasping exhortation to voters at Des Moines in Iowa, a tear seemed to course down his cheek. It might have been the cold, but if there was ever a moment for the man with the “no drama” mantra to let down his guard, this was it. TV anchors counted how many times he wiped the tear: one, two, three. “Four more tears” became part of social media lore.
Did he stick to his fitness regimen?
Yes, he tried his best to do so. Other than a brief interlude for Hurricane Sandy, the White House was relocated to Air Force One for months. Obama used to half-jog off the plane and half-jog onto the stage, his coat off, his sleeves rolled up, his tie usually gone. His daily routine was upended, but he tried to keep up his workout regimen in hotel fitness centres.
How did he protect his throat?
Obama did grow hoarse arguing his case. Between stops, he huddled in the plane’s conference room, nursing his throat with tea and scratching out his speech in longhand.
What did he eat?
He ate whenever he could, usually whatever the Air Force stewards served aboard the plane or something brought in before a speech. Occasionally, when he stopped at a pizza place or a doughnut shop, he snacked in the motorcade to the next campaign rally; at a Cleveland meat shop, he bought barbecue jerky. At a dinner one night at a Washington restaurant with several swing-state Democrats who had won a contest to meet the President, Obama tucked into a dinner of salmon, asparagus and potatoes — he left most of the potatoes.
What about his family?
Obama was happier whenever he got time with Michelle, but she largely kept a separate schedule. Like any father on the road, he made sure to call his wife and children every evening.
To keep him company in recent weeks, friends like Marty Nesbitt and Mike Ramos accompanied him aboard Air Force One. The other day, Obama landed in Chicago to vote and spotted his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, now the city’s mayor, waiting on the tarmac. A huge grin appeared on the President’s face, and he pointed at Emanuel. The mayor grinned and pointed back. The two embraced like long-lost brothers and chatted happily before walking, arm in arm, to shake hands with bystanders.
Is he really that aloof?
Not when he meets ordinary folks, at least not on his “last” campaign. Obama seemed to enjoy his unannounced stops even more, allowing a tiny peek into his interior life. At the Common Man restaurant in Merrimack, New Haven, Obama met a woman with two daughters. “You can’t beat daughters,” he said, reflecting on his own, who were, he added, still at a good age: “They still love you. They’re still cute. They don’t talk back too much.”
One of his favourite stops was the employee cafeteria at the Bellagio hotel and casino in Las Vegas, where he greeted kitchen workers and room cleaners. “For him, that was the people he’s fighting for,” Obama’s political guru David Plouffe said later. “He loves stuff like that. That was a unique one.”
Is he cold?
Cannot say so. Obama had earlier blamed the media for spinning such an image. Perhaps, his no-nonsense replies also add to the perception.
Mario Orosa, a technical specialist in Ohio, said he had asked Obama: “What was the last thing that made you really nervous?”
The President replied: “I don’t remember.”
Is he superstitious?
Appears so. On election day, Obama played a superstitious game of basketball with old pals and aides from the 2008 glory days, as he did on many primary poll days back then.
In one of the campaign’s central rituals, Obama played basketball on Tuesday, because he believes that he does not win when he does not play. Twice during his primary fight with Hillary Rodham Clinton back in 2008, he skipped his afternoon game on the days ballots were cast. And both times he lost.
Besides, Jay Carney, the press secretary, Jon Favreau, Obama’s speechwriter, and Ben Rhodes, a national security aide, stopped shaving as a good-luck charm for Obama’s re-election.
Did he really make calls to voters?
Yes — and found himself in the shoes of Michael Douglas in The American President, the movie in which the actor plays a widower President and calls a flower shop to order a bouquet for his date (Annette Bening).
On Tuesday, Obama visited his campaign headquarters in Chicago.
“Hi, is this Annie?” Obama said into a cellphone as he tried to rally voters and volunteers. “This is Barack Obama.”
Annie — of Wisconsin, the campaign said — may not have been too convinced.
“This is Barack Obama,” the President repeated. “You know, the President?”
Finally, a conversation ensued. “She was very nice to me even though she initially didn’t know who I was,” Obama said when the call ended.
Does Obama spoil for a fight with his critics?
Very rarely does Obama confront the nearly half of voters that do not support him, those who blame him for the economic troubles still afflicting the country. He seemed taken aback at Cleveland’s West Side Market when he asked a chicken vendor how business was going.
“Terrible since you got here,” the man said.
The vendor later told his local newspaper he had meant only that the President’s party had blocked his business that day.
Does Obama relish fielding hostile questions?
Don’t think so. He generally does not take questions from the reporters who trail him everywhere. Instead, he sticks to generally friendlier broadcast interviews, sometimes giving seven minutes to a local television station or calling in to drive-time radio disc jockeys with nicknames like Roadkill. With Michael Yo, a Miami radio host, Obama revealed his first job — Baskin-Robbins, “paid minimum wage”. Obama also addressed a feud between singer Mariah Carey and rapper Nicki Minaj: “I’m all about bringing people together.”