Sunday, November 11, 2007

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? It's Barack Obama

DES MOINES -- Dr. Steven Kraus of Carroll looked at the place-setting to his right and did a double-take.

The name read Barack Obama. The U.S. senator from Illinois and Democratic presidential candidate would be sitting next to Kraus and his wife Jill on Saturday for at least part of the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, a signature event in the 2008 presidential election process.

As it turns out, the Krauses, some of Obama's leading supporters in west-central Iowa, would sit with Obama for well over an hour, talking about family and politics and even chocolate cake.

"By the time he got to our table he had already eaten," Steve Kraus said. "He offered me his chocolate cake because he caught me eyeing it."

Kraus joked that he didn't take the cake, but he used the remarkable access to pick Obama's mind on a number of political and policy issues. Obama's wife, Michelle, also spent about 30 minutes with the Krauses at the JJ Dinner. In fact, the senator rose from the Krauses table to give one of the more important speeches of his political career with only 50 days remaining until the Iowa caucuses and Obama now in second place among Hawkeye State Democrats, trailing Hillary Clinton

I saw Kraus earlier Saturday night outside of Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, site of the annual event. Kraus said then he hoped Obama would press front-runner Hillary Clinton, criticize her more.

At the dinner table Kraus even made the suggestion to one of Obama's aides who responded that Obama just won't go negative. "It's not who he is," the aide said, according to Kraus. "He won't do it."

When Obama sat down with the Krauses one subject that did emerge is the question of experience, something on which Obama, only in his first term in the U.S. Senate, has to defend himself. Obama noted at the table, Kraus said, that former U.S. Sen. John Edwards' experience consists in large part of courtroom trials.

"Obama actually said that to me," Kraus said.

For his part, Kraus said he's tired of Edwards' pitch about being a trial lawyer fighting for the small guy -- a topic Edwards featured in speech to the JJ crowd of 9,000 people.

"Give me a break," Kraus said. "John Edwards went for the millions."

In contrast, said Kraus, Obama, with a freshly minted Harvard Law degree, opted for for the little-paid trenches of community organizing early in his career. It's a big difference between the two men, says Kraus, who sees Obama as the genuine article and Edwards as something of a southern showboater.

"That tells me about someone's character," Kraus said. "That's real."

Kraus said he learned first-hand that Obama and U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd have a strong working relationship.

"He (Obama) also said he really like Chris Dodd, respects him," Kraus said.

Dodd even stopped by the table and jumped into a conversation with Obama.

"I could tell they have a lot of mutual respect for each other," Kraus said.

Kraus asked Obama about potential running mates should he get the nomination.

Kraus said Obama told him he wouldn't limit his selection to just the Democratic presidential field.

Kraus, 43, a chiropractor and the clinic director of the Family & Specialty Medical Center in Carroll, is also the founding president of Future Health, Inc., a medical software company. He's been advising Obama's campaign on the issue of electronic medical record-keeping and has met Obama before, including a 15 minute one-on-one conservation in Carroll in September.

"He asked how the software company was going," Kraus said. "It was the first thing he asked me."

Kraus said he relies on his wife Jill -- whom he says has strong people-reading radar -- to evaluate not only politicians but potential business associates.

"Jill right away said that guy (Obama) is real," Kraus said. "It's not political charism. It's real. It's genuine. He's doing it for the right reasons."

Kraus said he sees Obama in historic terms.

"He is going to go something momentous," Kraus said. "I feel it in my bones."

This post also appeared at Iowa

No comments: