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In Iowa, Obama employs a 'beer garden' strategy


DAVENPORT, IA -- At every stop on his three-day bus tour through Iowa, President Obama told audiences how he’d visited a slew of small towns, looking to reach as many voters as he could in his bid to clinch this key swing state.

He was also quick to point out – perhaps as part of that strategy – that he drank an awful lot of beer.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event Aug. 15 in Davenport, Iowa, during a three day campaign bus tour through Iowa.

The cold ones started flowing Monday night, when Obama made an unscheduled stop at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, forgoing the Butter Cow to head straight to the Bud Tent.

At first the president seemed intent only on boosting the sales of Bud purveyor Mike Cunningham, who said his business had been shut down since 5pm so that the Secret Service could secure the area.

“Everyone who’s over 21, you gotta buy a beer!” Obama told the crowd.

But when a man asked the president if the brews were on him -- prompting a cheer of “Four More Beers!” (a take on the incumbent’s campaign cheer, "four more years") -- the president obliged.

“I’ll tell you what, except for the [guy with the] Romney sign, I’ll buy beers for 10 people,” he said, handing out drink tickets to the thirsty onlookers.

Finally the president made his way back to Cunningham, who handed him a full plastic cup and an on-message t-shirt: “Save Water, Drink Beer.”

The president clearly wanted the crowds at subsequent stops to know that he had consumed the Great American Beverage, as well as one of its culinary counterparts: pork on a stick.

Obama's endeavors shed light on the nexus between pints and politics, as candidates seek to prove that they’re relatable by answering that time-honored question: “Would you have a beer with the guy?”

This isn’t the first time Obama has sought to answer that question in the affirmative.

In the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, then-candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both tried to prove they were the most ordinary Joe/Jane by knocking a few back with the locals.

At a stop in a Pennsylvania bar in March of 2009, the president downed the regional favorite – Yuengling, the local favorite – but got caught not really knowing what it was.

“What do they call it? A Yuengling?” he asked a male patron.

Perhaps not believing him, the man repeated the word, adding, “Like you didn’t know.”

“Is it expensive, though?” Obama continued. “Wanna make sure it’s not some designer beer or something.”

(Fast forward two years to a friendly Olympic hockey wager between the U.S. and Canada in which now-President Obama bet a case of – you guessed it – Yuengling).

Not to be out-drunk by her primary opponent, Hillary Clinton sidled up to the bar at Bronko’s in Crown Point, Indiana a few weeks later, downing two mugs of Old Style beer and a shot of Crown Royal whiskey as cameras flashed.

Such photo ops are unlikely to come from the challenger this campaign cycle, as Obama’s Republican challenger Mitt Romney abstains from alcohol for religious reasons.

In 2011, Obama divulged that the White House does in fact have its own brewery, which he was asked about during a Tuesday stop at a coffee shop in Knoxville, Iowa.

To convince the curious on-looker, Obama asked a campaign aide to go to his bus and grab a bottle of White House Honey Ale as a token of authenticity.

It’s a pretty unique campaign trick. Obama may not be the only politician with a brewery (he shares that distinction with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper), but his is the only one with the presidential seal on it.

Another perk of the nation’s top job? A 24/7 campaign video team, on hand to document every moment that captures the incumbent in a positive light, including his three beer-centric “OTR,” or off-the-record, stops in Iowa.

The trip to the state fair seemed to be Obama’s favorite (or the one he thought would resonate with voters the most) because he was still regaling audiences about it two days after it happened.

At a rally Wednesday in Dubuque, his wife Michelle, who had joined him on the podium for the day, asked him what he had consumed at the fair.

“Pork chops and beer,” he responded, grinning.

“He’s so pleased with himself,” his wife quipped with a smile. 

Among Iowa voters, it seemed to be working.

Waiting for the president to arrive in Davenport for his final speech of the trip, John Gilkison, 56, said that he thought Obama’s beer drinking made him seem like a “normal person.”

“It just makes him human,” he said. “Makes him seem more open.”

Gilkison’s friend, John Wisor, 45, was particularly enthusiastic about the president’s public displays of drinking – not a surprise, given that he owned the bar across the street from where the president was about to speak. 

Inviting the president over, Wisor said, “I hope he does come over and have a beer.”