For an hour Friday afternoon, every student on Kirkwood Avenue stopped drinking. In the heat of Little 500 festivities, on a gorgeous sunny day, students left Kilroy’s, emptied the Upstairs Pub and poured out onto the sidewalks and into the street, all looking for one man: Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. He came, after all.
The Illinois senator crashed the Little 500 women’s race with a surprise appearance on campus and then traveled in his motorcade to Nick’s English Hut, where he shook hands with some of the patrons inside and added his John Hancock to a wall.
Obama was greeted at both places by throngs of screaming and cheering students who crowded in, trying to catch at least a glimpse of the political phenom. The lucky ones got a handshake, a smile or a nod from the senator.
Sophomore Coco Goldenberg did one better. When she held out her pink Alpha Chi Omega trucker hat and asked Obama to sign it, he took out a pen and scribbled his signature across the brim.
Goldenberg, breathlessly excited, posed for photos with her friends, proudly sporting the hat.
“I’m a big, big Obama supporter,” she said. “He’s so tight.”
His visit came with little warning. The campaign did not officially announce the stop until the senator’s motorcade began pulling into the driveway of Bill Armstrong Stadium.
Obama was in Indiana for a three-day bus tour of the state. His Bloomington stop off came in between two scheduled speeches – one Friday morning in Columbus, Ind., and one Friday evening in Terre Haute.
Obama and his rival, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, have been campaigning hard in Indiana since the middle of March. The protracted and fierce primary battle between the two candidates has given the Hoosier state’s May 6 primary, and its 84 delegates, a prominence Indiana Democrats have not seen for 40 years.
As Obama moved through central Indiana, Clinton hit the northern part of the state, speaking in Indianapolis, then Mishawaka, Ind., and Valparaiso, Ind.
On April 6, Obama’s campaign sponsored a free Dave Matthews concert at Assembly Hall. The campaign started giving away tickets for the performance as former President Bill Clinton spoke on campus about his wife’s candidacy. “The Daily Show with John Stewart” labeled what it called the Obama campaign’s attempt to steal Clinton’s thunder the “Dick Move of the Week.”
When Obama showed up at Little 500, he walked out to the infield of the stadium, shaking hands with everyone in arms’ length. He stood for a moment on the podium and greeted each of the members of the IU Student Foundation Steering Committee. And even though he was only feet away from a microphone that would have carried his words to the hundreds of screaming students in the stands, he stayed away. He did not discuss policy or make any statements of political substance during the visit. Instead, he opted for pleasantries; he thanked students for their support, shook hands with Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan, asked women’s basketball coach Felisha Legette-Jack how her season went and posed for photos with the players.
After he left the infield, he walked around the outside of the track – flanked by dark-suited Secret Service agents, police officers, advisers and a hoard of members of the media – and shook hands with each Little 500 rider and any student who reached out to him.
Obama then took a position off the field and watched the start of the race.
Students who were walking into the stadium to support their friends in the race stopped, shocked to see the senator at IU’s own Little 500 race.
Freshman Kyle Katz, who got a chance to shake Obama’s hand, said before the appearance he was unsure whether he would vote in Indiana’s May 6 primary. But now there’s no doubt.
“This guy’s going all out,” Katz said. “He deserves my vote.”
As word spread quickly via text message among IU students that Obama’s next planned stopped was Nick’s, dozens of spectators gathered outside the beloved Bloomington bar.
His reception at Nick’s was no less noisy and warm than it was at Bill Armstrong Stadium. When he left Nick’s and walked down Kirkwood to his waiting tour bus, students filled the streets.
Only once has Kruzan, an IU alumnus and ardent Obama booster, seen such excitement, revelry and celebration.
“It was the last time we won an NCAA Championship,” he said with a smile.
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