I meet the candidate at a private Bird Key reception.
By Charlie Huisking
In my private minute with Barack Obama, I could have asked him about Iraq, health care or global warming. But instead, we discussed men’s fashion.
Supporters had paid $1,000 each to have their special Obama moment on Bird Key.
“I didn’t wear a tie tonight, because I always see photos of you campaigning without one,” I told Obama as we posed for a picture together at a Bird Key fundraising reception on Monday night.
Looking sharp in a grey-green suit and a burgundy tie, Obama smiled and mentioned that he’d had breakfast in Puerto Rico with the governor that morning. “So I figured I’d better wear a tie for that occasion,” he said. “But you look fine without one.”
Before an aide ushered me along so the next person in line could have an Obama moment, I told the Democratic presidential candidate how touched I was by his first book, the beautifully crafted (and not ghost-written) memoir Dreams From My Father.
“As I read it, I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to have a president this bright, this introspective, this self-aware,” I said a bit nervously.
“Thank you for telling me that,” Obama replied, before greeting the excited woman behind me.
As you’ve figured out by now, I attended the reception at the bayfront, Mediterranean-style home of David and Lisa Grain as a check-writing Obama supporter, not as a journalist. So I failed to ask many pertinent questions, such as what the Grains’ background was (he has his own company, one guest told me), or how long they’d been in Sarasota.
The affable Grain bears a striking resemblance to Tiki Barber, the just-retired New York Giants’ football player. And Lisa Grain is fashion-model beautiful. (“This family is right out of central casting,” Obama noted while thanking them for their hospitality).
Lisa and David Grain
To accommodate the nearly 200 guests, some of the furniture had been moved out, and a temporary floor had been placed over the outdoor pool. It was an eclectic crowd of young and old, black and white, with guests ranging from Judy Lisi, the president of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, to Rev. Fred Robinson, the rector of the Church of the Redeemer. But tongues were really wagging at the presence of Dennis and Graci McGillicuddy, a power couple usually associated with Republican causes.
Obama spoke off the cuff for nearly a half-hour about Iraq, the current crisis in Pakistan, his health care plan and his ideas for reducing dependence on foreign oil. Then he took questions from the crowd.
Though he can appear professorial and stiff in televised debates, in person he was charismatic, inspirational and quick-witted.
He joked about his “cousin” Dick Cheney, a reference to recent news that Obama and the vice-president are from the same family tree. “There’s a black sheep in every family, a crazy old uncle in the attic,” Obama said to much laughter.
When an 11-year-old in the audience asked for his “take” on No Child Left Behind, Obama was impressed. “My take? I like that,” he said. “Are you sure you’re only eleven?”