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Obama’s every bite

Scientists - and Mr. Obama - say the seafood is safe. Restaurant owners, seafood distributors and environmental officials say the food is probably the most-tested seafood in the world at this point. Besides, the government closed fishing grounds that might be contaminated, making it unlikely that any bad seafood would get to market.

But with 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled and the government unable to account for much of it at this point, business owners say, consumers aren’t convinced.

Business owners blame the press, saying overblown stories caused the scare in the first place, but those owners say that national coverage of folks eating the food is the solution.

That’s where Mr. Obama and his stomach come in. Few things can cut through the clutter of news like the president, and the horde of reporters who hang on his every word, or in this case his every bite.

Some of the seafood distributors in Mississippi want to ship a bunch of seafood to the White House and host a big cookout on the executive mansion’s lawn for the president and his staff.

That idea has not taken off, but last weekend Mr. Obama featured Gulf seafood at his birthday barbecue, and on Monday, as he hosted the New Orleans Saints, a team of Washington chefs built and served the 30-foot po’boy made with Louisiana oysters, shrimp and bread from New Orleans-based Leidenheimer Baking Co.

The presidential palate is powerful. During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama’s seal of approval helped sell pizza in St. Louis and cookies in Des Moines, Iowa, while in the days since he’s taken office he’s boosted Washington-area burger joints with his occasional visits.

So it’s no surprise seafood folks say he can help them overcome their troubles along the Gulf.

They’ll get another test this weekend when Mr. Obama brings his family to Florida for a quick two-day vacation this weekend.

Mr. Obama’s not the only one trying to use a trip to the region to stir up business.

Dennis Gorg, who runs a coffee shop in St. Louis, organized a busload of folks from Missouri to travel the coast this week with the sole purpose of spending money and garnering attention for the region’s businesses.

“What do business owners need more than anything? They need customers. I thought, let’s take them customers,” Mr. Gorg said just before he and his group tucked into an afternoon lunch at Blow-Fly Inn, Mr. Weinberg’s restaurant.

He said he appreciates Mr. Obama’s efforts but that he thinks his group’s visit could make even more difference when it comes to convincing average Americans that the food is safe.

“He’s got a Secret Service agent in the kitchen. I don’t think he’s going to have a bad fish experience,” Mr. Gorg said, wondering whether the image of the president eating seafood translates. “Of course it’s safe for him; he travels in a bubble.”

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