Obama supporters gather for statewide fundraiser
City Councilwoman Barbara Van Auken held a microphone up to a cell phone while Peoria County Democrat Party Chairman Billy Halstead and Kelleher’s Irish Pub owner Pat Sullivan carefully balanced speakers on the restaurant’s upstairs rail.
The man-powered electronic contraption allowed a few dozen loyalists the chance to hear from U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., during a fundraiser Wednesday night.
The only way the event could have been more grass roots is if it had taken place in a field — and that was all right with the Democratic presidential hopeful.
"The one thing I’m most proud of is this type of grass-roots engagement that we’ve got," Obama said, his voice carrying to the back of Kelleher’s, mixing in with the bar chatter and competing for interest with the eighth inning of the Chicago White Sox game.
"What is really gratifying," he said, "is knowing my home base of Illinois is so supportive and people are going above and beyond the call of duty on my behalf."
About 40 "house parties" were organized across the state Wednesday night to raise money for Obama. He took questions for roughly 20 minutes on topics from immigration to the Iraq war. No one in Peoria asked him anything.
The group that raises the most money will be graced by an Obama visit at an event of its picking later in the year, said Van Auken, who sits on Obama’s presidential coordinating committee in Illinois.
"If we don’t win, we have a secret weapon to get him here that very few people have, and that’s Senator (George) Shadid," Van Auken told the crowd.
Shadid brought Obama, along with thousands of people, to Downtown Peoria last year for a campaign event organized on behalf of state Sen. Dave Koehler, who also made an appearance Wednesday night.
At Kelleher’s, the crowd was small but enthusiastic.
"Someone once said he doesn’t have the experience to run the White House, but I’m saying sometimes lack of experience can be a wonderful thing," said Steve Schmidt of Peoria, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for county coroner last year.
"He’s a very good guy, very honest, and that’s what’s lacking in today’s politics," added Clifford Stamm, also of Peoria.
Though he fancies himself a Republican, Sullivan provided the food and location.
That’s in part because a few years ago, Obama’s wife, Michelle, charmed the grits out of him when he cooked breakfast for her during a Peoria fundraiser she attended.
"Kelleher’s is closed on Sunday but Pat opened up Kelleher’s and personally fixed breakfast for Michelle and promptly fell in love with her," Van Auken joked.
"While he calls himself a Republican, Michelle could straighten him out."
Michelle Obama had visited town, Sullivan said, to attend the "Shake, Rattle and Roll" Parkinson’s disease fundraiser.
Sullivan said she was indeed a sight to see, though his true love remains his wife, Lark, with whom he is about to celebrate their 35th anniversary.
"But Michelle is charming," he added.
Molly Parker can be reached at (309) 686-3285 or email@example.com.