Chicago Sun-Times
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Sweet Iowa Obama trip 4. The scoop on Obama Secret Santa pact.


CHEROKEE, IA.—The Barack Obama campaign just staged a photo op where the traveling press with cameras were “allowed” by his staff to take a picture of him getting off his bus as he entered the Washington High School for a town hall meeting. He pretended not to notice the gaggle of cameras a few feet from him.

The op lasted a few moments.

Welcome back. It’s Monday afternoon and we have a lot to catch up on since yesterday. It’s the fifth day of an Obama bus trip through Iowa, wrapping up in Des Moines on Tuesday. We’ve been on the road since Thursday.

The price of super unleaded gas at a Kum & Go station in Cherokee is $2.85.9.


Turns out that there is a “Secret Santa” gift-giving arrangement between Obama and three key staffers who travel with him all the time. (before you send-off that e-mail comment about why I am spending time doing this fluff stuff, please look at other posts on this blog for my serious reporting.).

Communications chief Robert Gibbs said “We exchange on the plane names for Secret Santa.” The Santa cabal includes Obama, Gibbs and the tall men you see in the background when Obama is working a crowd: Marvin Nicholson, the national trip director and body man and former Duke star athlete Reggie Love.

“Marvin, Reggie, Barack and myself, we all exchange things,” Gibbs said. They “have not done Secret Santa in the past.” Gibbs drew Love. There is a $25 limit on an exchange.


Last night we stayed at an Amercinn; in Spencer, Ia. it was the first time I’ve stayed at this chain. As this tier of budget hotel/motel goes, I’d put the rooms in Comfort Inn and
The Country Inns and Suites ahead of this chain BUT they had the absolutely best coffee.

After we checked in our rooms (actually the campaign pre-checks us in and trip czar Liz Reiter hands out room assignments when we get in the lobby.) most of the traveling press settled in the lounge; but the socializing was quite limited because people were working on laptops or blackberries, writing, feeding video, or, in my case, transmitting still photos for a picture gallery.

Beer of choice: Miller Lite and Bud Light. Recklessly, I drank a third of a bottle, saving my calories for the microwave popcorn.

Food on Sunday was a pizza lunch with a variety of thin crusts from a Godfather Pizza outlet. The best. Dinner on the bus was a selection of wraps.


On Monday mid-day, the filing center for the traveling press was in a classroom at Storm Lake High School. Turns out it is the room used for detention. I sense I am entering a zone of metaphor. But I continue.

Co Wabeke is the teacher who presides over what is called “in-school suspension” in the very room the reporters are using.

When kids are kicked out of class they usually get a sack lunch and a carton of milk here. On Monday, the press ate (remember, we—our outlets pay--) was a variety of pizza and pasta and salad.

Wabeke coaches the dance squad and cheerleaders.

She said she is a Republican but “that is not how I always vote.”

She said she is an undecided voter. But she thinks she wants to caucus with her dancers and cheerleaders as a team building exercise; using the election as a way to do “some bonding”


There are four low-dollar Obama donors in the motorcade today who were picked by the campaign to get an inside look at a day in the life of the candidate. Johanna Pitts of Ft.Worth, Texas and her grand-daughter Noel, an aspiring photographer, were flown to Iowa by the campaign. Joining them are Helen and Don Hurt of Littleton, Col.


I left a name off the embed list of prior days, so here is a shout out to CBS Obama embed Maria Gavrilovic. So the complete embed roll is Gavrilovic of CBS; Sunlen Miller of ABC; Aswini Anburajan of NBC and Bonney Kapp of Fox.


Price of gas at a Cenex station en route to Le Mars, Ia. is $2.77.9


This was great Lynn. I like to see what is going on behind the scene in the Obama campaign. I am a loyal supporter of Senator Obama.

I'm also enjoying this blog. I always wondered what being part of the press was like on one of these campaign bus excursions. Thanks for sharing!

Interesting that there are no woman in the "secret Santa" cabal of buddies? Who are the woman that advise Obama or is his a campaign of total testosterone? No blood - no foul.

You are better off drinking a non-alcoholic non-domestic beer than a domestic lite beer. You will not cop a buzz, but you will get plenty of flavor along with the low calories.

when are you going to legitmize your coverage by addressing the other folk on the ground, e.g. michael whouley and terry vilmaine? are you just covering the junior senator from illinois? if that's the case what's you plan come new hamp? we'll miss!

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 17, 2007 6:21 PM.

Sweet column: Obama tackling Edwards. Asks "What did you do?" The Full Hillary. was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet column: Obama takes aim at Clinton in direct mail piece; dueling ads in Iowa. Obama looking over his shoulder at Edwards. is the next entry in this blog.

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