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Sweet: Obama Iowa road trip 3.Church mitten toss and the French connection.


MASON CITY, IA.—In this city, the birthplace of Meredith Willson, who wrote “The Music Man,” which debuted on Broadway 50 years ago on Wednesday, White House hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) attended church and told the people sitting on the wood pews, “You don’t have to run for president to make a difference.”

He also took part in the church annual mitten toss.

The Obama press corps covered, heading to the First Congregational United Church of Christ here in this north central Iowa community, where news that Obama would attend a church service here and offer opening remarks made the front page, below the fold of the Sunday Globe Gazette.

The Globe Gazette also ran a front page story on the coming golden anniversary of the man who wrote “76 Trombones,” as the paper put it, “the musical that put River City right her on the map.” So if I seemed informed about a few local things, my hat tip goes to the Globe Gazette. As the bus drove us to church from the Country Inns & Suites we stayed at last night, we passed Music Man Square, which had a sign advertising tours of Willson’s boyhood home.

This is day four of a 23-city Iowa road trip for Obama; it started outside of Des Moines on Thursday and winds up in Des Moines on Tuesday. Rivals Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.)

We’re in the bus again.

I’ll post more on the church later. But I want to report on the mitten toss right now. The church tradition is to decorate the unadorned Christmas tree in the sanctuary with small clothes items for the needy.

When Obama took to the pulpit to offer some remarks, he closed saying “my understanding is when I toss the mittens I'm supposed to try for the top. I used to play basketball, I'm confident in my skills. Think I'm gonna do just fine.”

When it was his turn for two throws, lefty (reference to how he throws, not his politics) Obama made an underhanded (not a reference to a political tactic) toss of what looked like white gloves and hit mid tree, yielding groans from onlookers. On the second try, with a white hat in hand, he hit near the top, to cheers. He spread his hands in victory.

Back on the bus, I see the embeds—Sunlen Miller of ABC; Aswini Anburajan of NBC and Bonney Kapp of Fox working on their stuff, so you may have tape from them posted on the sites soon.

Kudos to eagle eye Carrie Budoff Brown, a reporter for Politico, who just spotted parked in front of a Best Western a bus with a banner that said “Middle Class Express,” which may be an Edwards campaign bus. I’m sitting in my seat looking down at my laptop so I missed the scene.

By the way, the two Obama campaign buses—Obama rides on the luxury version—have no banner. Who ever heard of a campaign bus without a banner?

And one more thing: Why in a bus carrying reporters covering a potential president of the United States of America, is everything written in French in the restroom? You can just verrouiller pour eclairage to do your thing and hope there is enough papier hygienique to get through the trip.

Yesterday, (Saturday) the tv was working for a short time on the bus and of course it was tuned to C-SPAN, where Mitt Romney was on.

The bus routine each day so far is like this. Chief herder Liz Reiter rouses people from the breakfast room at the motel to board, this Sunday pretty late, near 9 a.m. Secret Service Agent Falcon Bulldog (his name changed to protect his identity) takes a seat up front of the bus.

Reiter calls out a roll call. There are about 15 writers and still and video photographers on the bus. The number changes because people are joining and dropping off the bus, depending on their filing needs and assignments.

Press minder Jen Psaki briefs on the day; there will be five stops with the one in Algoma on tax fairness, but nothing new. “There will be paper,” she says, the code name for a press release or a fact sheet or prepared text of a speech. Psaki yesterday and today is sitting kitty corner from me. Iowa press secretary Tommy Vietor has been sitting in the back though right now he has moved up to talk to Psaki.

Later in the day, Psaki said, Obama chief strategist David Axelrod is supposed to get on the bus to ride with us for a leg. Yesterday campaign manager David Plouffe ( he and Axelrod were business partners) climbed on for a stint to brief, which turned out to be very useful. If you think Obama is hanging with us, alas, you would be wrong.

The Country Inns and Suites we stayed at last night was across the highway from restaurants and shopping. Obama went to his room. A group of journalists went to the Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar. Axelrod, communications chief Robert Gibbs and Vietor were at another table. Others ran to the Best Buy to replenish lost or broken gear.. Newsweek’s Daren Briscoe, who is working on the newsmags presidential book project, bought a new Olympus voice recorder.

I dropped by the Buffalo but since I don’t drink, the place was noisy and I did not want to be tempted by those tasty looking wings, I left after watching a girl participate in a wings eating contest which was kind of cool.

I have not worked out in days and to say the least, I am sitting a lot, so I had to go to my room where I took care of the apple pie that was left over from dinner, weak that I am.

Lunch yesterday, during a stop at a town hall, featured terrific cream of broccoli and cheese soup. Last night, dinner on the bus offered a few choices; the brisket and baked potato was fine, though I am not crazy about packing food in Styrofoam.

Today’s price of unleaded gas: Mason City, $2.69.0
And today’s regional names
Hobby Lobby
Farm Fleet
and, the throat clearing Kum & Go.

It is a gas station.

This back and forth during a question and answer on Saturday..

Q: I honestly say that every time I see a commercial with Mitt Romney on TVI want to throw something at it and scream obscene words."

Obama: Wow….

Q: I just wanted to say to anyone who's thinking about voting for Mit Romney that -"

Obama: Well, hold on a second sweetie. Let's ask a question. I know you have an opinion about mitt, but we don't want to use the forum to dog mitt. Even though he does sometimes use his town hall meetings to dog me. But go ahead and ask your questions."

Q: I was just wondering your personal viewpoint on everything Mitt Romney.

Obama: (laughs) Well, look, I mean. I don't know if he's going to be the Republican nominee. If he is, I'm happy to have a debate with him. I think he's accomplished; he's very wealthy. He's a good looking guy - he's got nice hair. Um, I think it'll be interesting to see if he's the republican nominee. They've got a fierce competition going on on that side. To the extent that I know what his views are, there are many I disagree with. Although it seems like they change quite a bit from day to day. That's why it will be fun to debate him - if he ends up being the nominee."


"well, look", i've finally got to put forth the the sun-times going to seriously cover what's left of the obama experience...or is this fading into a tired attempt at ulyses?
i know...these are long tawdry days and you get pushed around a bit...but is anybody there gonna provide a serious glimpse of what's happening?
clinton's got vilmaine and whouley on the ground in iowa. edwards got trippi. obama go who, axelrod? yea, o.k.

Dear Ms. Sweet and Traveling Press: I have always wondered what it would be like for the press to travel with a candidate on a campaign bus. Thanks for this interesting narrative of a day's activities. Traveling on the bus, though, at day's end, it would seem inconvenient being without a car, in order to maybe look over the town or go to an outlying mall for a little Christmas shopping, etc. I am sure there is a spectacular Frank Lloyd Wright home in Mason City and believe there is a finely designed First Church of Christ, Scientist, as well. I have traveled to all Iowa counties (in my work in tax investigatons) and know the ice and snow covered Iowa landscape in winter appears exceedingly vast and monotonous producing the effect of what Willa Cather call "erasure of personality". A final question, "Does the French bus, at least ride good?"

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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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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 16, 2007 2:00 PM.

Sweet column: Obama acknowledges he is not for--contrary to what he has been saying--a ban on lobbyists in the White House was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet column: Obama's faith in faith. is the next entry in this blog.

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