Obama Goes Local

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By NADIA PFLAUM

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According to Barack Obama campaign volunteers, his is the first presidential candidate with a headquarters on the ground in both Kansas (Lawrence) and Missouri (in KC).

I stopped by the Kansas City office at 3911 Main during an open house on Wednesday night to survey the scene.

Tom Kessler, a 28-year-old Cerner employee, was kind enough to answer my questions as three other volunteers answered phones and typed on keyboards in an office decorated with handmade signs and U.S. maps.

TK: You know, I'm a recovering Republican. I actually voted for Bush, I'm embarrassed to say that now.

Pitch: What made you feel embarrassed to say that?

TK: I started feeling uneasy around the Axis of Evil time. It's been getting worse and worse over time … The whole, "let's double-down on Iran sentiment" that was coming out of the White House kind of spooked me because it was such a tremendously bad idea on every possible level … I feel Obama's the only one with the courage to take on the really tough issue of what are we going to do about countries who have nuclear aspirations. We need to actually start a dialogue with those countries and find the underlying interests that need to be met in order for those countries to have a peaceful nuclear program....

Pitch: Wasn't Hillary kind of aghast at that answer?

TK: Oh, that was considered a gaffe at the time. I think Obama lost a lot of support at the time because of the way the media covered it. It wasn't considered presidential to say you'd actually dialogue with those countries. I think it's kind of turned around. People are starting to realize that the hard line with Iran was kind of trumped-up … Obama's taken a lot of unpopular positions but history's borne them out very well because he's willing to take a stand that isn't necessarily the right answer from a political perspective but is the right answer from a historical perspective. I am still basically a conservative guy, we disagree on a lot of issues and I'm not going to change every stance to match Obama's, but the difference between him and the other candidates is I feel he's coming at them from a reasoned standpoint, and when we disagree we disagree on reasoned ground, not political ground...

Pitch: Do you know whose headquarters this used to be? It was [mayoral candidate] Stan Glazer's headquarters.

TK: Oh wow. No wonder. That would explain why it was so dirty.

Pitch: Was it really? Dirty in what way?

TK: Stopped up water fountain, it did not look well-maintained. Roaches that we've killed and then killed again and now I think we're finally done with that. The roach situation is now under control. It took a little effort. It's definitely on it's way to being something and you won't recognize it a month from now.

Pitch: Have you been reading a lot of media about Obama?

TK: Oh yeah. I’m a wonk. I'm all over it.

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Pitch: There was something in the back page of Details, the one with Johnathan Rhys-Meyers on the front, and the back page was in support of a hot first lady. It said Michelle Obama is "smokin'."

TK: She's an attractive woman.

Pitch: Didn't she say that his breath stinks in the morning or something unflattering?

TK: Yes, that she did say. I think what she was getting at was that, nobody who's involved thinks he's a messiah. He's a man. We know he's a man. He's just a very smart man, a very reasonable man, a man who's coming at these problems from a different perspective than the other candidates in the race. I think it was to discourage people for voting for him on an impression that would not bear out.… He's not magic, he's just a man, but he's a man who's willing to put together a really good team around him and get things done.

Pitch: Have a lot of random people popped in here?

TK: Oh yeah. We have people who come in off the street when they see "Obama" and say, hey, can we get involved? … Once Obama's won Iowa, which I expect him to do, then all the sudden we're going to have all these people with suits come in out of the woodwork from the Kansas City area who previously were, say, Clinton supporters, who realize Obama's viable, and we welcome those people. At the same time it's kind of fun to be here on the ground level before all of that comes together.

Pitch: Do you think Oprah had a lot of sway?

TK: A lot of juice? Yeah, I think if anything that's been underestimated because she's so respected. She went to two stops in Iowa, one stop in South Carolina, one stop in New Hampshire. At the Iowa stops she saw a combined almost 30,000 people, and in SC she saw 30,000 people, and in New Hampshire she saw somewhere between 6,000 and ten thousand people depending on whose estimates you listen to. All those people showed up and listened to what she had to say and listened to Obama speak.

Pitch: Were you all spooked when the gunman went into Hillary’s headquarters?

TK: I didn't think that much of it. Frankly, I thought, man, free publicity for Hillary in New Hampshire. Not good. It didn't spook me, I'm not worried about it. If it happens, it happens. A gunman might come into Safeway. And it's got "safe" right in the name.

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