The new Obama Girl is “fired up” over the Democratic presidential hopeful, but she prefers a church hat to the skimpy shorts favored by her predecessor.
Edith Childs, 58, had no idea her chant for Sen. Barack Obama would become a campaign slogan. In fact, the Illinois Democrat regularly invokes Mrs. Childs on the stump as a way to prove “the power of one voice to change the world.”
The way Mr. Obama tells it, Mrs. Childs started chanting “Fired up! Ready to go!” at a campaign appearance on a day when his spirits needed boosting.
Mrs. Childs, a Greenwood, S.C., County Council member, is locally famous for her get-out-the-vote cheerleading.
But Mr. Obama said he didn’t understand why “this little woman, maybe 5‘1”, 5‘2”, she’s got an outfit on, got a big church hat” started chanting, “Fired up! Ready to go!” as he worked the room.
“My staff and I, we’re looking at each other, we don’t know what to do,” he says on the stump. “But here’s the thing after about a minute, I’m starting to feel kind of fired up. And I’m starting to feel like I’m ready to go.”
Mr. Obama even gets crowds to start repeating “Fired up! Ready to go!” before instructing them: “Let’s go change the world.”
Mrs. Childs, a retired nurse, was surprised when a friend who visited Ottawa, Iowa, told her the politician was using her chant.
“I’ve never been a campaign line for anyone except myself,” she told The Washington Times.
Mrs. Childs first heard the chant at a state NAACP convention in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
“It stuck with me all this time,” she said.
Mr. Obama visited Greenwood — known as the “Emerald City” — in June, but only recently started telling the story of the slogan.
It goes something like this:
Mr. Obama had agreed to visit Greenwood — a community of 22,000 people that’s an “hour and a half from every place else” — in hopes of getting the endorsement of a South Carolina legislator. He arrived at midnight, “exhausted” after a busy campaign schedule.
He tells crowds he was irritated when his staff informed him they would need to be on the road by 6 a.m., “because you promised we would go to Greenwood.”
“I wake up, and I’m feeling terrible, back is sore. I open up the curtains; it’s pouring down rain outside. There’s a bad story about me in the New York Times,” Mr. Obama says, usually drawing laughs.
There were two stories about Mr. Obama in that day’s New York Times — one on the original Obama Girl, a scantily clad lip-syncher named Amber Lee Ettinger, who became famous for declaring “I’ve got a crush on Obama” in a Web video.
The other story detailed how his campaign had been caught distributing a negative memo about his chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
The opposition research memo riffed on Mrs. Clinton’s own joke that she could be elected the senator from Punjab because of strong support in India, and called her “D-Punjab.” Mr. Obama blamed his staff for the memo and suffered from negative headlines calling his positive campaign disingenuous.
On the way to Greenwood, Mr. Obama’s umbrella breaks and he is soaked by rain. When the senator arrives in the town, he is greeted by a small crowd. (Mrs. Childs and newspaper accounts pegged it at 40. In Mr. Obama’s story, 20 were there.)
He’s “grumpy,” and “they’re not all that excited to see me, either,” Mr. Obama recalls, but he said he started shaking hands and “doing what I have to do.”
Mrs. Childs’ voice travels across the room. “She says, ‘Fired up!’ and everybody in the room says, ‘Fired up!’ And then she says, ‘Ready to go!’ and everybody in the room says, ‘Ready to go!’ ” he says.
The chant has become the finale of his stump speech, and Mr. Obama tells supporters: “It goes to show you what one voice can do. One voice can change a room. One voice can change a city. One voice can change a state. One voice can change a world.”
Mrs. Childs, whose name is never mentioned in his story, says Mr. Obama doesn’t remember the first time they met — at an April event in Columbia, and she has not been in touch with his campaign.
Still, Mrs. Childs couldn’t be a better spokeswoman, telling The Times she likes Mr. Obama because he is “humble” and “a realist” who “gives hope to those that are hopeless.”
She said as she watched him personally greet voters that rainy morning, she thought he was “different” and decided she would give him a pep rally.
When the senator tells the story, he leaves out the rest of her lyrics from that day: “Go out and vote, go out and vote. Senator Obama, Senator Obama, will be, will be, our next president, our next president.”
“By this time, he’s grinning,” Mrs. Childs recalls. “And we were fired up for sure. We were laughing and singing, just excited.”
As for that church hat, “I am a hat wearer,” she says, recalling that it was beige with a leopard-print trim.