Actually, he didn't personally ask me to meet with him. In fact, his awareness of my existence undoubtedly faded away shortly after his departure from the Cherokee Community Center. Still, I can truthfully claim that I was personally asked to meet with Obama on Monday.
Obama is not the only top tier candidate for president to visit Cherokee this year. John Edwards appeared at the Gathering Place in June. Mitt Romney appeared at the Cherokee campus of WIT in September. They both drew good crowds.
There have also been second tier candidates in town including Joe Biden and Tommy Thompson (not Fred Thompson). Both appeared at Danny's Sports Spot. There have been some lower-than-second-tier candidates who have stopped by the newspaper office, or, in one case, appeared at the Family Table to talk to people who were there mostly to eat breakfast.
Because the Iowa portion of the campaign is reaching a climax and because Obama's candidacy has momentum right now, Obama's appearance became a more significant media event in Cherokee than past appearances by politicians. There was a standing room only crowd at the community center and there were numerous people from the media herded into a roped off section with tables and an elevated camera platform.
I didn't recognize any of the media people other than Nikki Thunder of KCHE and Mike Glover, the top political reporter in Iowa for the Associated Press. I don't personally know Glover but recognized him from appearances on IPTV.
I didn't expect to get any hot news at the event. At this point, anybody with any interest in political issues already knows how candidates stand on every issue of importance.
From the perspective of the Chronicle Times, which is locally focused, the big news was that Obama came to Cherokee. We don't try to compete with metropolitan newspapers, national news magazines and broadcast media in covering national news.
What I found most impressive about Obama is the fact that he comes across as enthusiastic and personally engaged with the audience in the midst of what must be an exhausting and mind-numbingly tedious schedule of appearances.
All candidates who have endured this long require this quality, but some seem to have it more than others. John Edwards also seemed enthusiastically engaged with his audience when he appeared in Cherokee in June. Obama's apparent freshness is all the more impressive because we've had a few more months of a grueling political season.
The routines of those in the media who follow candidates also must be grueling and tedious. Many arrived at the community center just ahead of Obama, apparently following him to all five of the appearances that day.
Although candidates may try to say something new each day to create quotes and sound bites, they don't change their message at each stop. It is possible that some new audience question might elicit an unexpected response. Political campaigns are a bit like NASCAR - spectators find the crashes the most exciting part.
However, such an unexpected foot-in-mouth event is highly unlikely. This political season, more than any other in the past, has put candidates through the mill of every kind of question on all the major issues.
When I received email notification of Obama's appearance, there was mention of Obama's availability to meet with the press after the regular program. I didn't realize then that Obama wanted to specifically meet with members of the local press.
I made my way out of the room while Obama was answering the last question from the audience. What I was hoping to do was get a more unusual photo of Obama to accompany my article. I had taken several photos of Obama from a variety of angles but they were all fairly standard.
I regard myself as more of a writer than a photographer and generally take more pride in conveying written information than taking pictures. However, as I've explained, I did not expect to provide any fresh information about Obama's campaign.
I have taken some good pictures of politicians in Cherokee including a side shot of Biden with high school students in the background and a picture of a jovial Romney with some jovial local people.
My favorite photo of a candidate in Cherokee was John Edwards coming down the sidewalk with his two youngest children, holding his son's hand. This family scene happened to be on Father's Day.
I walked around toward the back entrance of the main room at the community center, looking for a different angle but a security agent would not allow me to go where I wanted to go. I went outside in back where I expected Obama to exit.
I stayed there for a minute but decided that Obama coming out the door with his entourage would not be a photo I would likely use with my article. Besides, I needed to get to a school board meeting that started in 15 minutes.
I went to the office to drop off my camera and pick up my school board agenda packet. There, I received a call from Jean Benson of the Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation. She asked me whether I could get back to the community center to meet with Obama. Jim Adamson made a similar call a moment later.
I knew that the invitation had nothing to do with me personally. Obama must have a policy of consistently meeting with representatives of the local media, in this case, the Chronicle Times and KCHE.
Still, I couldn't help but feel flattered by a summons to meet with the person who might very well become the next president of the United States.
When I arrived in the parking lot, an Obama staff member came out to bring me inside. I commented on the fact that Obama placed such importance on accommodating local media. The staff member told me that they understood how national media could sometimes crowd out local media. The staff member asked to use my camera to take pictures of Obama and myself.
When I met with Obama, I asked him about an assertion by some pundits that candidates pander to an Iowa audience by supporting production of ethanol from corn using natural gas, which results in only a slight net increase in BTU's.
Hopefully, I didn't come across as personally critical of ethanol production. I was playing devil's advocate with this question. Whatever Obama's understanding of my views, he had a strong grasp of the issue. He noted that Hillary Clinton and originally opposed ethanol production and then switched, so if there was any question to be asked about pandering to Iowa voters, she should be the one to answer it.
Obama repeated what he said during the regular portion of his speech to the Cherokee audience, that ethanol production needs to be based on more than just corn.
He referred to the plans in Cherokee County to use fuel pellets from trash in the production of biodiesel. I found this awareness of local developments impressive, speaking well for his preparation and for the skill of his staff.
Following this discussion, I blurted out, "Who will be your vice president?"
I knew as I was asking that this was not a brilliant question and it seemed that a bit of Obama's road weariness showed through.
He responded, "If I told you, then I would have to kill you,"
This was not exactly an original witticism, which made it an appropriate response to the question, much more polite than, "Do you actually expect an answer to that, you moron?"
I don't mean to imply that Obama would even silently refer to someone as a moron. He seems like a genuinely congenial person, more so than I would be in similar circumstances.
Obama described the characteristics he would look for in a vice president, primarily integrity.
Then my pal Barak went off to pursue his quest to be the leader of the free world and I went off on my quest to find out what the school district will do about icy parking lots.