Life on the rope line: 10 minutes of Obama frenzy
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kiss by kiss, handshake by handshake, President Barack Obama glides across the perimeter of a small tennis stadium, stooping to embrace white-haired retirees wearing dark sunglasses and extending his arms to shake hands or touch the masses a few rows back.
Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own," the unofficial anthem of the president's re-election campaign, blares over the sound system as Obama crouches to kiss an elderly woman wearing a tan Obama baseball cap, stretches out to touch the fingers of a woman wearing a purple headband. He turns to an aide, Marvin Nicholson, when he reaches a wheelchair-bound veteran, and Nicholson hands Obama a presidential challenge coin, which the president gives the veteran in the palm of his handshake.
Such is life on the Obama "rope line," the latest version of a longtime tradition of politicians literally touching their supporters while walking along low, metal barriers.
For Obama, who visited here last week, this kind of personal contact offers a daily reminder of the voting coalition that sent him to the White House in 2008 and is vital to winning another term.
For many of Obama's fans, it's a glimpse of history, the first black man to be elected president. And it's especially poignant for blacks, who clutch printouts of his official portrait, or wear T-shirts bearing his image.
"We love you," they say. "Good luck." The president responds with his broad, toothy smile: "Thank you," he says. "I appreciate you."
"What's your name? How old are you?" Obama asked when he reached 5-year-old Zion Gray, who wore a blue T-shirt that said, "Future President." Obama placed his right hand atop the black boy's head as he greeted the boy's grandmother, Angeleta Gray, a Delray Beach city commissioner.
Zion was able to say by phone hours later what other boys like him might not have said just a few short years ago: "I want to be president one day."
Supporters pass Obama notes, a newspaper insert with his photograph, even a tote bag bearing images of the Obama family. Aides collect the materials by the armful and the president signs them after the events, leaving them for his supporters to retrieve after his motorcade departs.
On any day that Obama travels, the handshakes and hellos typically start minutes after Air Force One touches down at an airport. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last month, a line of local Democrats and volunteers waited at the base of the staircase that was wheeled out to the presidential airplane as Obama's black Chevrolet Suburban SUV, decked out with American flags and the presidential decal on the passenger door, idled nearby.
"How's everybody doing?" the president called out to about 40 supporters. He walked up to 93-year-old Josie Scholtus, whose white, curly hair brushed against the collar of her coat.
"Hello! How are you?" Obama said, and then informed her, "I'm going to give you a kiss now," practically making Mrs. Scholtus blush. "Thank you so much. I appreciate you."
Few people get the opportunity. Back in Florida, Dale Shack, 67, and his wife, Joan, left their home in Coral Springs, Fla., at 6:30 a.m. to attend the midmorning rally here. Shack said he's been close to other candidates in the past — he cut his teeth as a campaign coordinator for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972 in Monmouth County, N.J., and volunteered for Al Gore and John Kerry.
Shack said most of the people who pack these rallies are out in their neighborhoods every day, doing the daily door-to-door grunt work that makes a difference. So a presidential handshake can mean a lot.
"It's an historical moment in time. If I get a chance to shake hands and say hi, it means something," Shack said.
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