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WILLIAM SEIP

Everyday movers, shakers

A wedge brought him closer to the candidate

November 04, 2008|Seema Mehta

Among the tenets Americans hold dear is that anyone can grow up to become . . . famous. You thought we were going to say "president," didn't you? Don't be ridiculous.

Joe the Plumber, who went from small-town obscurity to overnight fame after his sidewalk encounter with Barack Obama became a centerpiece of John McCain's campaign rhetoric, has acquired an agent to manage his career as national celebrity.

There were other everyday Americans whose serendipitous interactions with the presidential candidates also made waves. Some abruptly changed the narrative by asking the unexpected question or provoking the unexpected comment. Others gave the candidate a story to tell Americans along the campaign trail. No one took off quite like Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher, Ohio's most famous nonlicensed plumber. But here, we celebrate them nonetheless.

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Ever since Barack Obama stopped in and ordered coconut cream pie and a double-decker cheeseburger, things haven't been the same at the Fireside Restaurant in Georgetown, Ohio.

"It was something else," owner William Seip said. "It really changed everything here."

The morning after Obama's Oct. 9 visit, village residents crowded the restaurant and ordered pie. At lunch, Seip sold so many of his Big O burgers that he decided to tweak the name on the menu: Now the burger's called the Big Obama.

In addition to boosting business, the visit changed Seip's perception of the Democratic presidential nominee.

Before he met Obama, said the 46-year-old Seip, he didn't have a favorable opinion of the Illinois senator or his policies. "I didn't really like the man till I met him. . . . After he asked me questions and answered my questions, I think he's all right," Seip said.

While posing for a picture with the diner's employees, Obama was told that Seip was a die-hard Republican. So the Democratic nominee asked him how business had been during eight years under a Republican White House.

"Down the drain," Seip replied.

Obama asked: "Why wouldn't you want to just try something new for a while? If you keep on hitting your head against the wall . . . and nothing happens, you might just think to yourself, 'Well, let me just try it out. Democrats can't do any worse. They might do better.' So you think about that."

Seip demurred. But Obama repeated the details of their meeting at campaign events for several days.

Despite being labeled a "die-hard Republican" by his employees, Seip said, he twice voted for Bill Clinton -- and "I did all right [under] him. I'll tell you what," Seip offered last week, "I'll probably vote for Obama."

-- Seema Mehta

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