ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Two retirees, a U.S. Postal Service worker and a business owner from politically important Midwestern and Southwestern states, all of them donors to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, got a rare opportunity Thursday to bend his ear over dinner.
Obama's re-election effort offered the meal as part of a promotion to boost campaign contributions in the April-to-June fundraising quarter, during which it reported raising more than $47 million. Giving was not required, but the campaign requested donations of at least $5 from anyone willing to contribute.
Keeping its end of the deal, the campaign was paying for one night in a hotel and flying in the contributors from Arizona, Colorado, Indiana and Minnesota — all states important to Obama's re-election hopes.
Of those states, Obama lost only Arizona in 2008 and his campaign has floated the idea of trying to compete this time around in the traditionally Republican-leaning state. Minnesota traditionally leans Democratic, but most of the upper Midwest states, which have suffered as a result of the economy, appear to be up for grabs heading into next year's presidential contest.
The donors were identified as: Juanita Martinez, a retired teacher from Brighton, Colo.; Wendi Smith, an artist and retired professor from Corydon, Ind.; Ken Knight, a U.S. Postal Service employee from Chandler, Ariz.; and Casey Helbling, an entrepreneur and small-business owner from Minneapolis.
Dinner was held at The Liberty Tavern in Arlington, Va., which serves modern American cuisine, according to its website.
Reporters allowed into the upstairs dining room before any food or drinks were served heard Obama and Knight chat about spring training and the Chicago White Sox, Obama's favorite baseball team. Obama, dressed casually in slacks and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up, then asked each donor where they were from as reporters were escorted back downstairs.
Vice President Joe Biden, a subsequent addition to the guest list, was not expected to attend after all. He was out of the country, having led a U.S. delegation to Saudi Arabia on Thursday to offer condolences after the death of the kingdom's second-in-line for the throne.
Obama had dinner with campaign donors when he first ran for president, and more are to be expected as the presidential contest steams toward a November 2012 finish line.
In a video announcement from his 2008 campaign, Obama said he wanted to meet donors over dinner because national political candidates spend too much time at fancy fundraisers with the well-to-do, closed off from hearing the concerns and needs of ordinary people.
Coincidentally, Thursday's dinner was scheduled a day after Obama returned from a three-day fundraising swing through Nevada, California and Colorado. He headlined six fundraisers, including at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas and the Hollywood home of actors Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas. The trip also included stops where Obama met everyday people, including at Roscoe's, a popular chicken restaurant chain in Los Angeles.
Two months ago, Obama had lunch on Capitol Hill with a group of campaign volunteers who were chosen for the meal based on essays they wrote about organizing. Obama got his start in politics by working as a community organizer in Chicago.