President's four dinner companions came from states crucial to 2012 election...
UPDATE, Jan. 6, 2012: CLICK TO READ: Second "Dinner with Barack" contest turns into lunch
UPDATE, Nov. 27, 2011: Campaign releases 5 new videos from the first "Dinner with Barack"
Update, Oct. 31, 2011: The menu & the winners dish on their group date with the President
On Thursday evening, President Obama spent about 70 minutes at The Liberty Tavern in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, with the four lucky winners of the "Dinner with Barack" contest, who flew in from around the US to claim their prizes. They arrived by motorcade at the Halloween-decorated restaurant at 6:48 PM for the outing that fulfilled the first of two Campaign contests in which the President raffled himself off as a dinner date to raise funds for his 2012 war chest. (Above: The President with the winners, from L Knight, Smith, Helbling, and Martinez)
"This dinner is important because I'm only president thanks to the work of millions of Americans like the four I just met. —BO," the President tweeted on the @BarackObama account after the dinner.
The dinner was for the contest that ran during the second fundraising quarter, April-June, and helped boost donations from more than 475,000 supporters and raise $33.2 million for the period. Each guest came from a state crucial to the 2012 re-election, and each represented an issue the President has been focusing on in recent months: Juanita Martinez is a retired teacher from Brighton, Colorado; Casey Helbling is an entrepreneur and small-business owner from Minneapolis; Ken Knight is a U.S. postal worker from Chandler, Arizona; and Wendi Smith is a retired professor and artist from Corydon, Indiana. Arizona is the only state the President lost in 2008.
Clad casually in khaki slacks and a light blue shirt, his sleeves rolled back, Mr. Obama and his four companions sat around a dark wood table in the upstairs room of the Tavern, which serves seasonal, American regional cuisine with a focus on artisanal, in-house creations. Entree prices range from $19-$25. The President's press pool was ushered in for a photo op before any food or beverages were served. No other "regular" patrons were in the room, but there was plenty of staff on hand.
Knight, the federal employee, was overheard telling the President about himself, and mentioning Michael Jordan, a reference at which the President smiled. Smith, the professor, was heard telling the President that her hometown is in southern Indiana, and was the first capital of the state, which seemed to surprise Mr. Obama. There was also chit-chat about the Chicago White Sox, Mr. Obama's favorite baseball team.
"#DinnerwithBarack just became Dinner with Barack, Ken, Casey, Wendi, and Juanita: pic.twitter.com/rZKfj2Gi," @BarackObama tweeted; the photo was grainy, and followed by another equally low-res image, "just for good measure," according to the second tweet.
The President has never previously dined at the eatery, but the First Lady may have managed to sneak in for an "incognito" meal at some point. In order to attend the dinner, each guest had to undergo a background check, and sign documents agreeing that their image, etc., could be used by the Campaign in future promotional materials. Today was the first time the names of the winners were revealed, though the contest's Official Rules stated that their names would be posted online in July; the Campaign ignored its own rules.
The President's motorcade arrived at approximately 6:48 PM. By 7:58 PM, the group was departing in the motorcade, which arrived back at the White House at 8:04 PM. (Above: A blurry post-dinner photo tweeted by @BarackObama shows wine and ice tea on the table; the press had already been dismissed)
An AP video, shot during the 50 seconds the President's press pool was allowed in to observe the proceedings:
The prize was worth $1,075...
In addition to the dinner, the winners received a round-trip coach-class airfare and one night's hotel stay as part of the prize. The Campaign pegged the "approximate retail value" of the package at $1,075, with the meal priced at $100, airfare at $700, and the hotel stay at $275. This is taxable income for the winners under IRS rules.
Vice President didn't attend, but will telephone the winners...
Vice President Joe Biden was supposed to attend the dinner; midway through the fundraising quarter, the contest was changed to "Dinner with Barack and Joe" to entice more donors, a change the President himself announced in a video. But Biden on Thursday was leading a 7-member Presidential Delegation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a condolence trip that was scheduled after the Crown Prince died last week in New York. The Campaign promised he would telephone the four winners.
The President will dine at a later date with four more donors from the Campaign's second gustatory contest, the "Dinner with Barack II" sweepstakes, held during fundraising quarter 3, July-September. In an interview in September, Campaign Deputy Press Secretary Katie Hogan told Obama Foodorama that there was no way to determine how many donors actually gave money in order to be entered in the dinner contests; she said that donations for the dinner contests were not specifically tracked. Entering the contests without donating was possible, too.
Thursday's dinner took place a day after President Obama returned from a three-day fundraising swing through Las Vegas, Nevada; San Francisco and Los Angeles, California; and the snowy Denver, Colorado. He headlined six fundraisers, including one at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, and one at the Hollywood home of actors Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas. The trip also included an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and a stop at Roscoe's House of Chicken n' Waffles in Los Angeles.
The dinner donations...
There was a big push for donations for both dinners, but especially for the third quarter fundraiser, with plenty of e-mail requests from Campaign staffers, as well as multiple e-mails from the President and two from First Lady Michelle Obama, who suggested that winners "relax" and enjoy themselves with "Barack."
"Not everyone knows how to prepare for a dinner like this," Mrs. Obama wrote. "I want to tell you the one thing to do if you're selected to join him...Just relax. Barack wants this dinner to be fun, and he really loves getting to know supporters like you."
On Sept. 30, the deadline for the third quarter, OFA created a new video to woo donations, down to $3 as the baseline ask. The video was shot during President Obama's luncheon with Campaign volunteers at Ted's Bulletin restaurant in Washington, DC on August 10th. It was the last time he dined with winners of a campaign contest:
More on The Liberty Tavern...
The Executive Chef is Liam LaCivita; "the culinary team is committed to in-house production, including handcrafted breads, pastas, sausages, ice creams, and desserts," notes the website. "High-quality ingredients are diligently sourced, including Hereford beef, Duroc pork, and award-winning American artisan cheeses." Prices for entrees range between $19-$25, with appetizers going for $11-$16. The wine and beer selection is large.
"The @LibertyTavernVA was honored to host President Barack Obama for dinner this evening!" the restaurant tweeted after the President departed.
Information: The Liberty Tavern is located at 3195 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22201. Phone: (703) 465-9360.