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Obama's pizza man, Romney's doughnuts and the politics of food

September 11, 2012|By James Rainey
  • President Obama is picked up and lifted off the ground by Scott Van Duzer, owner of Big Apple Pizza & Pasta Italian Restaurant during an unannounced stop in Fort Pierce, Fla.
President Obama is picked up and lifted off the ground by Scott Van Duzer,… (Pablo Martinez Monsivais…)

You think a nomination acceptance speech packs some tension? That anxiety surrounds a presidential debate? Yes, but for some impromptu political drama, campaign 2012 can’t seem to top the new battlegrounds — diners, restaurants and watering holes. Beer, doughnuts and baked goods have been on the virtual firing line this year.

The latest gastronomically related intrigue began Sunday in Florida, where pizza shop owner Scott Van Duzer enveloped President Obama in a bearhug, lifting him off his feet. The Republican businessman said he was elated to be greeted in his restaurant by the leader of the free world.

Democrats thought Van Duzer proved their man has cross-over appeal to merchants and members of the other party. Some conservatives viewed Van Duzer as a bit of a traitor for embracing the man they like to depict as an enemy of free enterprise.

PHOTOS: The politics of food

So several partisans quickly posted nasty reviews on Yelp about Big Apple Pizza & Pasta, Van Duzer’s place in Fort Pierce. Sample: “Shame on you Scott Van Duzer for thumbing your nose at all the small business owners this President has disrespected for the last four years. I guess you DIDN'T BUILD IT!”

Some of the malcontents talked about launching a boycott of Van Duzer’s business, which caused him to protest to Politico: “There's no middle line anymore, and that's exactly what's wrong with our country right now.”

If a boycott develops, doubtless a counter-protest will follow, with Democrats lining up to support the establishment, a la the controversy over Chick-fil-A.

PHOTOS: Best of the Republican, Democratic conventions

The Van Duzer episode — in which the president had been thanking the businessman in part for his charitable work in support of blood donations — is just the latest of several such dust-ups, including:

DOUGHNUT AMNESIA: Mitt Romney visited an Iowa diner in June, ending his meeting with voters by asking a member of his entourage to grab some snacks for the road. Romney gestured at the doughnuts and asked for some of those “uh, uh, chocolate goodies” — unable to come up with the word “doughnuts.”

That inspired a David Letterman Top 10 list on other euphemisms for doughnuts and a new round of charges by Romney critics that the doughnut-amnesia proved the candidate was an out-of-touch elitist. (The possibility he might just have been tired and distracted after long weeks of campaigning was apparently not considered.)

BAKERY REJECTION: When an advance team for Vice President Joe Biden approached a Virginia baker in August about agreeing to a quick campaign stop at his establishment, the baker said “no.” Chris McMurray, owner of Crumb and Get It in Radford said he didn’t agree with the administration’s policies and believed Obama’s “You didn’t build that” remark insulted businesspeople.

A grill around the corner greeted the veep instead, the owner saying he appreciated having the business, regardless of the big name patron’s political persuasion.

PHOTOS: Mitt Romney on the campaign trail

FOUR MORE BEERS!: Just a few days prior to the Bakery Rejection, President Obama got a mixed message from the owner of the Bud Tent at the Iowa State Fair. Mike Cunningham II allowed the president’s contingent into the popular beer concession and posed for pictures, hoisting a cold one with Obama. When the president left, patrons who had been treated to a beer chanted, “Four more beers! Four more beers!”

But Cunningham later told the Des Moines Register that the Secret Service security sweep had shut down regular business for so long that he lost as much as $25,000 in business. He said he had not, and would not, support Obama. “I was in a position to make a campaign donation against my will,” the beer-man told the newspaper.

Your Politics Now blogger poked around about Cunningham’s claim and found that big a loss highly unlikely. An aficionado inside the Iowa Fair operation said that a really busy hour at the Bud Tent might sell 1,000 beers. At $6 a pop that would amount to a loss, at most, of $6,000.

Regardless of any possible loss, the president clearly didn’t need a photo op with fellow beer drinkers to turn into a political joust.

Still, most businesspeople will not turn up their nose at presidential business. Just 10 days before Obama took office, he made a surprise stop at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a famous eatery in the District of Columbia. A sign quickly went up noting the only patrons who could eat for free: President Obama. And Bill Cosby.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesrainey

MORE COMMENTARY FROM JAMES RAINEY:

Paul Ryan and ‘post-truth’ politics

Obama and Biden’s trip in the spin machine

One network suggested GOP use video, not Eastwood stunt

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