Barack Obama’s remarks at an informal coffee in the small town of Sac City, Iowa, made national headlines Wednesday and won at least one unlikely convert: the host of the coffee herself.
“I’ve always been a Rush Limbaugh listener,” Stephanie Frederick says. “And sometimes I find myself thinking, you know, a lot of the things that school of thought thinks.” But she adds, “I’ve never been one of those people that say I’m a Republican, or I’m a Democrat. I pretty much look at a candidate based on what they have to say.”
Of Obama, she says, “A lot of what he had to say really made a lot of sense to me.”
Stephanie and her husband Kevin are not affiliated with Obama’s campaign. She explains that her best friend, who is involved in state politics, met Obama at the Iowa State Fair last month and suggested that the Fredericks’ backyard would be a good place to have a small get-together.
Intrigued, Frederick agreed to host the event. Only about 50 people attended, according to the Associated Press. But among those were national political reporters who put a spotlight on Obama’s latest attempt to dispel the notion that he is too inexperienced to be president.
ABC News reported — and Matt Drudge linked — the line: “I’ve been in elected office longer than John Edwards or Hillary Clinton… I’ve passed more bills I’m sure than either of them.” The line refers to Obama’s eight years in the Illinois state senate before his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004.
“He made several valid points about his history and where he’s been for the last two decades and what he’s been doing,” Frederick says, “And as I sat there listening to him I thought, you know, that’s actually very true. The thing that the others have that he doesn’t is more notoriety.”
Frederick described Obama as a passionate, endearing, and genuine man with “good values” and “good morals.” I asked her if this opinion of him squared with her views on abortion.
“I’m definitely pro-life,” She says. “And I handed something to Mr. Obama, because I have a really big soft spot in my heart on that issue. It’s hard for me to vote for somebody who isn’t [pro-life]. I’m one of those people who would have a hard time sleeping at night.”
At the same time, she says, the leading Republicans’ positions on abortion leave a lot to be desired as well. Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice, and Mitt Romney only recently changed his position on the issue. “To be honest, I’m going to pray for [Obama],” she says. “I’m going to pray that he has a change of heart.”
Stephanie’s friend Heidi Kelding had the same lament. A self-described conservative, she said she was drawn to Obama’s candidacy because “We need something new,” but that she would find it hard to get past his views on abortion.
I met Kelding and her friend Vicki Strough at Hutch’s Cafe in Sac City, where I was having lunch after touring an ethanol distillery in nearby Galva. I overheard them talking about how Obama had dropped by the Fredericks’ place that morning, and they were very gracious with their time as I butted in and started asking questions.
Kelding, who identifies herself as a conservative, said she was drawn to Obama because she was tired of almost every Republican on the national scene. In addition to the usual gripes about Bush, she added that Romney seemed arrogant and out-of-touch, McCain was too old to be president, and Giuliani had done amazing things in New York City but wouldn’t know how to solve America’s problems. She said she didn’t know much about Fred Thompson, who kicks off his campaign today in Des Moines.
Strough, a self-described “independent,” said she likes Obama because he seems like a candidate who can help the middle class, which she says hasn’t fared well under the Bush administration. She says that after working in public housing in Sioux City, she’s convinced that Bush has cut too much funding for social programs. Despite his campaign’s focus on poverty, John Edwards seems insincere to her. Obama, she said, seems “more down to earth.”
A number of Republicans in the state of Iowa apparently feel the same way. Last month, Obama came in third behind Romney and Giuliani in a University of Iowa poll that asked registered Republicans to name their preferred general election candidate. “What we’re seeing at this early stage, among people looking forward to the November 2008 election,” the pollster told Campaigns & Elections, “is that Obama is the Democrat Republicans are most likely to vote for.”
But what if he doesn’t get the nomination? I put this question to Stephanie Frederick. She says, “I know one thing for sure: I will do anything not to have Hillary Clinton in office.”
“I know that sounds terrible, but she’s just not somebody I have a whole lot of respect for, and I really think it would be a disservice to our country to have her in office,” Frederick says. “I think she lacks morals. Totally.”
When I mention Hillary Clinton at Hutch’s Cafe, Heidi and Vicki react as if I’ve uttered the name Voldemort. The prospect of another Clinton administration seems merely to disgust Vicki, but Heidi is positively terrified. “God forbid,” she says, looking around the tiny room as if for hidden cameras. “There’s nothing that woman won’t do.”
– Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staff reporter.