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Obama, Pritzker sip tea at Urbana coffee shop, warn gov race not in the bag

Barack Obama orders a drink at a surprise appearance with gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker at a coffee shop in Urbana Friday, Sept. 17, 2018. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

President Barack Obama gave J.B. Pritzker’s run for governor a boost on Friday, following a midterm election rallying cry to the nation with some retail politicking with the Democratic billionaire.

Obama stopped at an Urbana coffee shop with Pritzker and running mate Juliana Stratton. The former president ordered the drinks. Hot black tea for him, and green tea for Pritzker and Stratton.

And it was Obama who stole the show.

The crowd inside Caffe Paradiso stood as he walked in, but he told everyone to sit down. Then he promptly told the crowd to vote.

Obama went up to everyone in the cafe to ask whether they’ll vote. He welcomed those working, the staff, the reporters and the campaign workers, but zeroed in on the others.

“Everybody know J.B. Pritzker?” the former president asked the cheering students as he walked in. “Do we have our next lieutenant governor here?,” he asked pointing to Stratton.

Last month, Pritzker released a digital video featuring Obama in support of the Democrat’s gubernatorial bid.

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“You guys, remember to vote,” Obama said as he left. “Governor, lieutenant governor, all the way down the ballot.”

That was his first reference of the day to Pritzker. While Obama implored a University of Illinois crowd to vote for Democrats, he did not mention Pritzker by name in his Friday morning speech.

Crowds pressed up against the window of the coffee shop, snapping photos of the former president. Inside, Obama mingled with students.

“We need engineers. We’ve got enough lawyers,” he told one student.

One student had her Snapchat setting ready for a surprise as she spotted a multitude of security and press. She had no idea the former president would be stopping in.

Pritzker’s sister Penny was Obama’s Commerce Secretary, but J.B. Pritzker has been more closely aligned with Hillary Clinton, raising money for both of her presidential runs.

But Stratton and Obama do have some history.

The former president took the unusual step of endorsing her over incumbent Democrat Ken Dunkin for an Illinois House seat in 2016. Defeating Dunkin was a priority for Illinois Democrats because he broke ranks with the party and sided with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on some key votes.

Students peer inside an Urbana coffeeshop Friday where Barack Obama appeared with Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times
Students peer inside an Urbana coffeeshop Friday where Barack Obama appeared with Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

Pritzker acknowledged the huge boost Obama can provide to Democrats seeking election in November.

“And you saw, he worked every table here, right?” Pritzker said. “President Obama is an amazing person and of course to have him here in a college town, we’re so excited about what he did as president and he’s extolled the virtues of our policies around higher education and creating jobs and the technology arena.”

Pritzker said Democrats “are united, up and down the ticket.”