Barack Obama in Elkhart, Ind.
By Shailagh Murray, Washington Post
This event was billed as “doorknocking,” but that doesn’t even begin to
At around 12:35 p.m., the motorcade pulled to a stop at the corner of Bank
St. and Superior St. in a tidy, working-class neighborhood near downtown
Elkhart. Several neighbors had already gathered on the sidewalk, and they
cheered when Obama stepped off the bus with wife Michelle and daughters
Malia and Sasha. “Hey guys, how are you?” Obama called out.
He approached Rose Bias, 44, who lives two blocks away and had heard from
another neighbor about a Secret Service sighting. Obama chatted with her,
asked about her family, and commented on the harness that her son Trenton
was wearing. Bias had him on a leash because the toddler was apt to run
off. “Be on the lookout, you might be on the news,” Obama told Bias. A
homemaker, she said she intends to vote Tuesday and is leaning to Obama.
“It does help to see him,” Bias said.
Obama turned to greet David Romberger, 44, who is unemployed. “I’m voting
for you sir,” Romberger told Obama. He said one reason is the senator’s
“principled” opposition to the gas-tax holiday that Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton has proposed. “I see that as an extremely temporary fix to a much
larger problem,” Romberger said.
By now a few neighbors had become a small crowd. Word that
Obama had arrived in Elkhart was literally traveling from pew to pew in
local churches (more on this later), and people had started streaming down
the sidewalks. Obama joked to an aspiring dental hygeinist, “Let’s see your
teeth.” Jarrett Himebaugh, 9, introduced himself to Obama and stated “I
know why John Edwards dropped out. He got less votes than you and Hillary.”
“A political scientist,” Obama said with a laugh, as he made his way across
The Obamas finally made it to a few front porches. At 241 Bank St., Jody
Coleman, a 33-year-old factory worker, had come outside to investigate the
commotion. “I was sitting at home, online, trying to deal with a new pet,
and I was like, I think Barack Obama is on my street corner,” he said.
Coleman told Obama that the cost of filling up his GMC Sonoma truck had
jumped from $25 to $65, and the two talked about alternative fuels as one
way to address the problem. Coleman isn’t buying the gas-tax holiday
either. “What’s it going to do for one day?” he said. “That’s all it would
Mike and Kim Konecny greeted the Obamas at 233 Bank St. and talked about
the local economy. Both are in the recreational vehicles business, a major
local industry (50 percent of RVs are produced here, and Elkhart is home to
the RV Museum, which your pooler was disappointed to miss). The couple told
Obama about recent layoffs in town. Obama pitched his $1,000 middle-class
tax cut as a better deal for the Konecnys than Clinton’s gas-tax break. Kim
was an Obama fan before he showed up, but Mike, wearing a Notre Dame cap
and t-shirt, said he was undecided before the brief session on his front
lawn. “But I’m not now,” he asserted.
Michelle and the girls broke off, heading to a local park, and Obama
finally made it halfway down the block. The swarm had grown to around 200
people. They ined up on the sidewalk, creating an informal rope line,
waving pens and snapping camera phones. “I don’t get this response when I
canvas,” deadpanned Stacy McColly, a local volunteer who doorknocks for
Obama almost every day. One girl, trembling, handed her phone to Obama to
say hello to her friend “Hillary.”
“Hi Hillary!” Obama said with a big grin. “And she supports me,” he
relayed. “Oh, this isn’t Hillary Clinton? Oh, Hillary Van Dyke. Nice to
meet you! Thanks for your support.”
Another woman handed him a phone and Obama said hello to “Grandpa Dick.” At
this point an hour had passed, and the candidate still had a mob waiting to
greet him. “Yes! He’s right here by Simpson Street! For real!” one woman
yelled into her phone. “Mama, calm down. Hurry up and get down here!”
It was nearly 40 years to the day – May 2, 1968 – when the last
presidential candidate came through Elkhart. That was Bobby Kennedy, of
course, and he drew 3,000 people. Judging from the response on Bank St.,
one wonders what size crowd Obama could have gathered, had the campaign
provided more than 15 minutes notice of his arrival.
Finally, Obama boarded the bus, and the motorcade traveled a mile or so to
Riverview School, where Michelle and the girls were hanging out at the
playground. A small mob had already gathered to see the Obama women, but
when the senator showed up, it grew some more. Obama posed with babies and
signed autographs. “I think we can carry Elkhart with your help,” he
announced. Then he agreed to shoot a few baskets.
A few baskets turned into another game of P-I-G, and this time Obama’s
opponents were Anthony Nowacyk, a local 14-year-old, and Rod Roberson,
another neighbor, who happens to be president of the Elkhart City Council
and a former Northwestern University basketball player. Roberson also knows
Michelle’s brother, Craig Robinson, from his Northwestern coaching days.
He’s the one who heard about the Obama visit while he was in church.
Obama and Roberson chatted and talked a little trash, but the candidate
held his own, sinking a few impressive three-point shots (and only one air
ball, according to this pooler’s count). “Under pressure!” Obama said, as
one shot sailed through the basket. “I’m a pressure player.” Soon the score
was PI for each, but then Obama missed. “I was robbed on that last one,” he
said, after losing the game. Nowacyk, who doesn’t play on a team but was an
impressive, if quiet, opponent, offered this assessment of Obama’s playing
abilities: “He’s alright.”