The Washington Times - May 2, 2008, 01:19PM
Sen. Barack Obama Joe Andrew endorsement SEE RELATED:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The Democratic establishment is steadily moving toward ensuring Sen. Barack Obama’s nomination for president even as more of the party’s voters view him as a damaged candidate.\ \ \ Mr. Obama is fewer than 300 delegates from the nomination, and inches closer with each day and each superdelegate endorsement, but he is losing ground in national polls and in the final contest states in the wake of negative campaigning, big-state losses and several dust-ups involving his former pastor.\ \ \ Poll after poll shows that the Democratic front-runner’s image has been sullied and that many Democrats who back his rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, say they won’t back Mr. Obama if he is the party choice.\ \ \ But party leaders such as former Democratic National Committee Chairman Joe Andrew are flocking to Mr. Obama’s side, urging others to do the same and close the delegate gap so Democrats can unify in time for the fall.
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Sen. Barack Obama and General Scott Gration went to “mix and mingle” with voters at the VFW Post 1954 in North Liberty, Indiana. The 22 people initially in the hall (which was really a bar, with a pool table, etc.) had short notice about the Obama visit, and most said they were excited to see history even if they weren’t supporters. It was an entirely white crowd, which grew in the 55 minutes of the OTR stop. He also changed a few minds by doing his thang.\ \ \ As Obama started shaking hands in the parking lot, your pool was ushered inside to get preset. The 5:30 news had just started and what do you know, the Dem battle was the lead story.\ \ \ As he tried to leave the parking lot, a youth softball team got wind he was there and ambushed him. Your pool ran back out to witness the senator signing the arms of children in black marker, signing softballs and posing for pictures. There was a lot of squealing, including, “She’s never going to wash her hand again!” Most of the kids were ages 10 to 12.\ \ \ “I hope I don’t get in trouble with your parents,” Obama told the kids whose hands he’d signed.\ \ \ “Here comes the president,” shouted Austin, 12, who stuck around and later had Obama autograph his glove.\ \ \ When Obama finally started to leave the parking lot, he announced, “I’m going to see if I might get a beer in there.”\ \ \ He entered the VFW hall when the Coors Light clock read 5:43, and within a few minutes, he told the crowd, “I’m not going to give a speech or anything, I just want to stop by … and maybe get a beer as well.”\ \ \ VFW Post Commander Harl Shafer, who served in the Army from 1966 to 1968 in Vietnam, got laughs from his crowd when he made Obama and the general sign the guest book as required by notice posted on the wall.\ \ \ Obama greeted George L Sheneman, 80, who pulled out a yellowed letter which Obama read and thanked the man for his service. Your pooler chatted later with Sheneman, who was born in North Liberty and who said he is now an Obama supporter. The letter was one of gratitude from President Truman, written in 1947 when he was discharged from Korea. He served there before the war.\ \ \ “He made up my mind today,” the veteran said. “After meeting him he changed what I thought about him before. Mainly we need to get rid of what we’ve got.”\ \ \ After talking to Sheneman, Obama noticed that the pool cameras were “blocking the bartender.” He looked at what the VFW members were drinking and announced: “I’m going to have a Bud.” He got some hazing and then Vic Vukovits, who works for Anheuser-Busch, shouted, “I’m going to vote for you if you drink Budweiser.”\ \ \ He took a big sip from his icy cold can, a much better attempt than the little sip he took from that brewery in Bethlehem, Pa. last Sunday.\ \ \ Mark Lichnevowicz, who owns a 34-acre farm nearby, asked Obama who he would pick for his running mate.\ \ \ “You interested?” he asked, adding there is a “vetting” process to make sure the man didn’t have any “skeletons.”\ \ \ “I haven’t decided yet because I haven’t won the nomination,” he told Lichnevowicz, who later said he supports Obama and would like him to pick former Sen. John Edwards as a running mate if he gets the Dem nod. He said Edwards would help Obama win the southern vote but added he worried the Dems would have “no choice” but to go Clinton-Obama because he probably will need all of her supporters to beat McCain.\ \ \ He also said he thinks Obama is the most intelligent candidate running and he doesn’t like Clinton’s “contradictions” she’s made on the campaign trail.\ \ \ In the usual style, he worked the room and asked everyone where they served or what they do for work. He occasionally popped some nuts in his mouth.\ \ \ Obama, sleeves rolled up and Bud can in hand, vigorously shook hands with ZZ-top-style goateed auxiliary VFW member Ken Boyer, 40, who was undecided before Obama came in. His main priorities for a president are someone that will create “just a good future, something better than what I have, for my three sons.”\ \ \ “Things like this don’t happen in this town,” gushed Garrett Williams, an auxiliary member and mechanic sitting at the bar.\ \ \ Sitting down with a few voters in the hall, Obama fielded questions on high gas prices and asked people how much they are paying and how much it affects them. He gave standard stump answers and made no news (Clinton, McCain plan to suspend tax is gimmick, etc.). He also talked about the foreclosure crisis, also no news.\ \ \ “We’re going to be fighting for you,” Obama told one man who asked about gas prices.\ \ \ He talked about merit pay for teachers, investing in clean energy as long-term fix. Surprisingly, your pooler heard no talk of Iraq.\ \ \ The entire time he took big sips of his Bud, and finished it as he stood up. He autographed it for someone, and one member of the pool spotted a second fresh one for the senator getting passed off to Reggie. I haven’t been able to confirm this yet.
Christina Bellantoni, national political reporter, The Washington Times