Politics

09.12.12

Will Obama’s Campaign-Trail Bar Crawl Leave Mitt Romney Staggering?

The president’s newfound thirst is an elegant way to shore up his regular-guy credentials while also pointing to Romney’s “weirdness,” writes David Freedlander.

As Barack Obama aims to peel off white, male voters from Mitt Romney, he has turned to the most American of rituals: bellying up to the nearest bar and ordering a cold one.

The Obama alcohol advantage was on display in contrasting photo ops this Saturday, which happened to run in separate articles on the same page of The New York Times: Mitt Romney holding out what appeared to be foil-wrapped hot dogs in one, and Barack Obama reaching for a beer in the other.

The president’s refreshment looked to be a classic American lager, pulled from a tap, a slight white head just below the lip—the staple of backyard barbecues the nation over, the most American of alcohols.

It is a pleasure unavailable to Mitt Romney, whose Mormon faith prohibits the drinking of alcohol. The Book of Doctrine and Covenants states: “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good.”

Romney, a former bishop of his church, says he hasn’t tried a beer since he was a teenager.

While the Obama campaign has avoided direct attacks on Mormonism, it has tried to draw attention to Romney’s “weirdness” as a way of pointing to the Republican’s sometimes stilted and patrician manner—while also at times seeming to allude to his faith.

As Martin Amis archly put it: “Is Mitt the kind of guy you’d like to have a glass of water with?”

Of course, Obama is far from the first politician to use beer as a selling point. In 2004, John Kerry seemed to be in every tavern from Akron to Waterloo Still, 57 percent of Americans that year said they would rather have a beer with President Bush, who after a wild youth had given up drinking, than with his bar-hopping rival.

But this year, Obama’s personal favorability rating has remained well ahead of Romney’s, and the president has played up his regular-guy credentials by regularly turning to public consumption of cool ones. Beside a trip to Kissimmee, Fla., his electioneering bar crawl took him last weekend to the Gators Dockside Bar in Orlando. In September, he visited Bob Roe’s Point After (“Where Good Times Gather”) in Sioux City, Iowa. A few weeks earlier, he toasted patrons at The Pump House in Cedar Falls (“Where Great Food and Fun Come Together”)  This spring, he downed Guinness at The Dubliner on St. Patrick’s Day. Last year in Orlando, he stopped by the Harp and Celt (“The Perpetual St. Patrick’s Day Pub Ambiance 365 Days a Year”) to discuss the stimulus.

And then there was the “news” that Obama had become the first president to use the White House to home-brew his own beer. After an online petition and several days of clamoring for the “secret” recipe, the administration released instructions on how to make the White House Honey Brown Ale and Honey Porter, along with a video of the commander in chief, sleeves rolled up, helping to brew it. Naturally, the White House’s executive chef said that the idea to join the burgeoning home-brew movement was the president’s alone.

The president has played up his regular-guy credentials by regularly turning to public consumption of cool ones.

This imbibing hadn’t always come so easily to the president. In 2008, at a Latrobe bar, then Senator Obama sent Pennsylvanians cringing when he ordered a perfectly ordinary beer, only to ask: “What do they call it? A Yuengling? Trying a Pennsylvania beer, that's what I'm talking about … Is it expensive, though? Wanna make sure it's not some designer beer or something."

But as Obama has found his drinking-for-the-cameras groove this year, Romney has effectively delegated the task of alcohol appreciation to running mate Paul Ryan, who took care to mention his fondness for "Spotted Cow, Leinie's, and Miller" at his first campaign rally in Wisconsin after being added to the ticket.

On the other side of the aisle, Joe Biden doesn’t drink beer, opting for a non-alcoholic Buckler at the famed White House beer summit with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates in 2009.

But even Biden has played up his beer bona fides, telling firefighters at a 9/11 commemoration in Pennsylvania on Tuesday: “You come to the White House. I’ll buy you a beer.”