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Obama tries to connect with voters, over a beer

Published August 17, 2012 8:13 am

Politics • Chaffetz is behind fellow Mormon teetotaler Romney and says president prompts kids to drink alcohol.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • Did you know the White House brews its own beer? That President Barack Obama downed a Bud Light at the Iowa State Fair? Do you recall the White House Beer Summit a few years back?

If Obama is trying to signal to voters that he's the candidate of everyday, beer-swilling folk, he seems to have driven the message home this week. And he's doing so against Republican Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon who abstains from alcoholic beverages and is certain not to challenge Obama for the beer-guzzler bloc.

"President Obama wants to be the cool kid and he wants to portray himself as the guy you want to have a beer with," says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican and Romney surrogate who is also Mormon. "I tend to think I want somebody who is competent rather than one who is encouraging kids to drink beer."

Obama didn't encourage any "kids" to imbibe, but he did make a splash at the Iowa State Fair this week, passing on an offer for a cinnamon bun and a smoothie.

"Smoothie sounds OK, but a beer sounds better," the president said as he greeted voters. Across the aisle, a rowdy crowd at the Bud Light tent started chanting, "four more years!" and the president wandered over to shake hands and buy a round.

"I'll tell you what," Obama said, "except for [the guy with the] Romney sign, I'll buy beers for 10 people."

Earlier, at the Coffee Connection in Knoxville, Iowa, Obama presented the café owner with a bottle of beer from the White House, a reminder that the presidential mansion is into home brewing.

On Tuesday, Obama downed another Bud Light at The Pump Haus in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where a bartender tried to give the president a free tab. "No, no, no," the president responded.

In the annals of presidential races, many a beer has been tossed back as politicians attempt to show their blue-collar appeal.

President Abraham Lincoln famously said that beer was the great uniter: "If given the truth, [the people] can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts — and beer."

Franklin Roosevelt ended his first fireside chat with a call for an end to prohibition and for Americans to celebrate over beer.

Hillary Clinton took a shot of Crown Royal whiskey and chased it with a beer when she was running for the White House.

Obama has taken beer love to a new level. He presented the prime minister of Ireland with a six-pack, headed to a Capitol Hill Irish pub to celebrate St. Patrick's Day earlier this year and in 2009, tried to quell racial concerns with a Harvard professor's arrest by hoisting a few brews on the White House South Lawn.

Allan Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington, says there's always the common aim in a campaign to be the candidate Americans can see themselves hanging out with.

"The one place Obama seems to be trouncing Romney is in likability," Lichtman says. "So why not exploit that?"

Still, the professor notes, voters don't see a candidate downing a frothy beverage and finalize their pick: "I think this is one of those million little things, it's fun, the press loves to cover, but it doesn't change votes."

It can help voters feel like they're more aligned with a candidate, though.

"Beer is a connection with people," says Chris Thorne, spokesman for The Beer Institute, a trade group for brewers and importers. "It's not that a politician is looking to use this, but he's really looking at where are the people going to be at. They're going to be drinking a beer."

Though Romney is a teetotaler, Obama hasn't attempted to call out his opponent over who consumes what kind of beverage. The president and his campaign have declared that Romney's faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn't going to be fodder for the race.

Chaffetz, the Utah congressman who has been stumping for Romney, says Obama may have cornered the beer market, but Romney still has him beat in other categories.

"When it comes to root beer and Jell-O, no one can keep up with Romney," Chaffetz says. "All the cool kids these days are doing root beer and Jell-O."

tburr@sltrib.com