Campaign Trail-Observations & Road Notes

Campaign Trail-Observations & Road Notes

The phone rang and it was a fellow named Scott, he explained that he worked for the Obama Campaign.

“Can we talk?”

I thought, “Another contribution call.”

“You’ve been selected, one of four people to be considered for the Biden campaign stop in Rochester.  Would you consider doing an intro for Vice President Biden?”

I paused and wondered if this was legitimate?   He tells me his contacts and how he received my name and I’m now somewhat convinced that it could be real.

“I’d want to discuss it with my wife who tends to be adverse to seeking the spotlight.”

After a short visit with Lauri we return the call with positive answer. We felt it isn’t what small retailers seek to do and our customer base has always been too small to divide with political views. The issues and concerns overload the possible negative impacts.  Besides, I’ve held my opinions to myself for 35 of 40 years while trying to eke out a living in a small town of 10,000. My customer base has treated us with unflagging patronage and this incredible support has allowed us to stay in a community of this size.  We are ever grateful for each and every person that darkens our doorway.  Does our customer base have broad enough intellectual capacity and understanding to allow the small shopkeeper an opinion of his own?

Hmmm, I think so, I hope so.

We gave this stranger on the phone all of our vital information including full names including birthdates and  social security numbers.  With the understanding that they would be doing a security check on us.  He said that we were top on the list, but the final decision does not come from them. The last instruction is that we tell no one. What a great hoax or scheme to play off my ego and steal all my frog skins ($). The theme song for Jeopardy started playing in my head.

Two days worth of waiting went by without any communication and I get more worried; this could be the coolest con game ever! An email came on Sunday that said I’d been selected and that I would need to start writing some prepared remarks. The intro was to be brief statement on our business and why I support the current administration. The intro was written with some concerns I had about health care issues, fairness and equity for all people.   The first draft goes for review and critique.  It passes muster rather quickly with some revisions.  They like the sound of the remarks and ask if I can elaborate; it gets bulked up with additional thoughts.

I’m not adverse to public oration but today I’m being edited and advised by real speech writers!!

Rochester is a place that a few years ago caused me some trepidation.  I had a music gig at a fancy hotel in this town and didn’t realize how far it was from Worthington.  I was almost late for this gig so the “Rochester” name leaves me with a feeling of unease — don’t be late!

Lauri has a VIP back stage pass and Sigin, our God daughter has recently caught up with us.  She wants to attend and we realize that since she has not had the background check we have no assurance of her being able to attend.

As we pull into Rochester the vehicle lines are queuing up at the fair grounds and we steer the Sprinter van (Starship Enterprise) toward the parking monitors.   We explain to them we aren’t spectators  and reveal our contact name.   They perk up and send us into the V.I.P. parking area and we start to feel special!   This might have been the coolest moment — I’ve always been average!  So average in fact, that I’m being feted by these event builders.  Oh please, I don’t want to come off as “Joe the plumber” from elections of years gone by.

We are allowed to go to the front of the line that is now about two or three blocks long and we check in and are quickly whisked through police security and then on to Secret Service security, our bags, briefcases and ourselves are searched.  Each station is possessive of their own space.  We all past security and then go onto a separate building that is perhaps 75 yards from the event arena.   Between us and the arena is a sound booth tent that also serves as a pre-staging area for the “on stage guests.”Bill Keitel Introducing Vice President Joe Biden

We hear music and excitement building as the event goers are being entertained by music, pledge of allegiance and various crowd pleasing activities. The building is developing a pulse of sound and rhythm.   We stand alone in a separate building, hearing the distant cheers, music and revelry.   Finally in comes friend Tim Waltz and shortly after that Al Franken shows up.    At this point we are 40 to 45 people strong, being sequestered without a Vice President anywhere to be found.   There is significant security everywhere, almost within arm’s reach.

We visit and queue up for the official White House photo sessions.  Everybody getting their assigned  space in line.  After everybody is in line (we are at the very end).  The person that is orchestrating the event looks up, points me in the eyes!  We get signal to proceed to the front — in front of EVERYBODY!   He puts us in a huddle and quickly states the objective “When Biden comes in, you visit, you photograph and then you head directly for the white tent next to the event building and give me your brief case.”  (it has my notes)   “You’ll find it in the tent with everybody else’s brief cases…..but, but, but.” Please hand me the briefcase.

An event official then approaches the Mayor of Rochester and informs him that the fire marshal is having a problem with building capacity, everybody dithers a bit and it gets resolved.  Everything and everybody seems to be dense packed into a building that is just a bit beyond capacity.

Special buses have been parked intentionally and tightly in front of our walk ways so there is no line of sight to the outside world.  All the windows are covered with material that looks carbon fiber gray.

We are secure 100’s of yards in all directions. All entrances are secure and then we hear some distant doors slam, it comes from behind large curtains and behind the U.S. flags and MN buntings.   More security walks in and looks us all over, up and down and sizes up the place, then giving the nod,  through the curtains briskly strides a warm, friendly, smiling, familiar face — Joe Biden.

Applause erupts and VP Biden acknowledges everybody and then comes immediately over to Lauri, Sigin and I and introduces himself. Engaging, sincere and energetic and vibrant, we visit for a minute or two until the White House photographer tells him to get photogenic!   He’s got lots to do and only so much time for small talk, they keep him on task.  I’ve been previously advised that if the VP isn’t wearing a tie, you might consider removing your own.  (I discreetly removed my brand new tie, a tie that had secret powers of poise, grace, eloquence and self-confidence. )

Once our official photos were taken we are immediately separated from the rest of the people in this staging area.   Security and event people have taken my brief case 10 minutes earlier and assured me that it will be where I can find it. (It has my notes for the intro) I say bye to Sigin and Lauri and I am whisked off with Al Franken and Tim Waltz and the Mayor of Rochester.   We head to the white tent and search for our intro notes. Darn, they got to be here someplace?

The sound being generated from the crowd in the event site is building and it is pulsating with energy.    I have had very little trepidation up until this point.  My original notes were a page long and I almost could have gone it alone, but with the help of the WH they are now 2 pages long, and nowhere to be found.   This is when I could finally, at long last become anxious.   The crowd noise was continuing to build and we were being called upon to head in as a team to the main stage.   I am ready to balk, almost annoyed but then I realize the Mayor doesn’t have his and Al doesn’t have his either.  NOBODY IS GOING ANY WHERE UNTIL….

Somebody peeks out of the exterior sound and audio tent and points to the distant chair by the entrance and as we enter the building we all grab our notes!

The volume level goes up another notch or two or three as we enter as a foursome and I’m the only unknown, which is fine.  I’ve put on a pretend parka that makes in invisible.

My politician friends and I are waving hands, shaking hands, clapping hands and the event begins. Its really, really loud and really, really fun, besides — I’m invisible nobody has a clue who I am. This joyful frenzy is a small payment for politicians that spend their days in meetings that I would find frightfully boring; they appreciate this time with their constituency, rightfully so. I’ve had a number of opportunities to do some public speaking on “event development” and as the revelry continues,  my mind wanders to this subject because they have appointed this building perfectly.  Densely packed people on the main floor and a perimeter balcony that is packed to capacity.  The sound system must travel with the VP because it’s perfect E.Q. and the audio tech’s are not even in the building!  Lighting is perfect, camera positioning is perfect; 10 to 15 big boy tripod camera’s in back and another dozen or more throughout the sides and balcony.

Signage is well placed, color and buntings everywhere, Steel guard barriers (10 feet from the stage) Tele prompters functioning and complete with polite well-dressed Secret Service people stage side.   There are even buntings on the stage all around the podium, they seem to be hung on a 30″ high wall of  1/2″ plate steel?  OH MY!  I comprehend the design and I think I’m in a pretty secure spot.

The Mayor of Rochester welcomes the crowd, then Tim Waltz gets and fires up the crowd like no other.  I believe Congressman Waltz was a history teacher and also a veteran, what better qualifications, I’m honored to be on stage with him, I hold him in high regard,  he talks meaningfully to this crowd.

Tim passes the stage to Sen. Al Franken, Al has become a favorite son of Minnesota. Far from his SNL beginnings, Al is smart, charming, eloquent and on task!  Al signs off and does the intro for me, I’m grateful that I’m being introduced by someone that actually knows me!   Over the past few years I’ve worked a little bit with his wife Frannie and see him occasion in Worthington. or out on the trail.  He of course can’t leave the introduction without mentioning Worthington’s Turkey Day, the event that has continued to put Worthington on the map for the past 40 years or so.

I step up to the podium and almost ponder why I don’t seem particularly nervous, but I quickly realize it is because I’m surrounded by people of like minds and like aspirations.

I have spent so much of my natural born days holding my tongue and it’s refreshing to know I can talk openly about a few subjects that are quite relevant to small business people.

***************** Please find below  the approximate text of what I said.

——————————–ad lib the Mars Lander comment by Waltz

Good afternoon! I am so excited to be here today – as I suspect we all are!

My name is Bill Keitel. My wife Lauri and I have owned and operated a small manufacturing business in Worthington for the last 40 years called the Buffalo Billfold Company. We are a small business. We employ 1 or 2 people on an ordinary day and might have as many as 6 or 7 employees on a busy day. We hand craft all of our leather goods in a small town, and have always prided ourselves on making those products here at home, so we can proudly stamp them with “Made in the USA.”

For us, adaptability is the key. And over the past four years it’s been clear that President Obama and Vice President Biden understand that, and are looking out for small business owners and middle-class families like ours. Whether it be through tax cuts for middle-class families and small business owners, or fighting for middle-class tax relief, helping us manage health care costs for employees, or working to support insourcing and support companies like ours that grow jobs right here at home – the President and Vice President have had our backs. …. … Now, we have theirs!

Over the years we’ve seen incredible societal change both in the demographics of our community  and also in our wholesale and retail endeavors .  And as we all follow government policies and politics in this election year – it’s clear that there is a stark choice in vision for the economy and the middle class.

We are heartened by the current administration and their indefatigable efforts to create a sense of fairness and equity to all people in this nation.

President Obama and Vice President Biden are working to build an economy to last, where hard work pays off, responsibility is rewarded and everyone plays by the same rules.

That not only helps small business owners like us, but also middle-class families like ours continue to move forward.

It’s exactly the kind of vision that our country needs to continue our economic recovery, and exactly the kind of leadership that all Americans need to continue to create a better, stronger future for  their families.

It is my privilege to introduce to you a man who has worked hard for the middle-class and small business owners all his life, because he has been where we are and understands what’s at stake.

Please join me in welcoming the Honorable Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden!


If their idea was to present the face of a “ma and pa” business and American craftsmanship, in full support of the current administration, I think we got the job done.

As I was finishing up and playing to the crowod I was hoping that VP Biden was somewhere to be found!  My last few words “VP of the United States, Joe Biden” were probably drown out by the applause.

As I turned to see if he was in the wings or behind the stage, he was coming up the steps just as planned.

His speech was compelling, his logic sound, his desire to do good, beyond reproach.    The crowd could not contain themselves!   Afterwards Joe Biden, Al Franken, Tim Waltz and Mayor

Rochester and myself rose thanking the crowd.

Politicians moved forward off stage, toward the crowd barriers, shaking hands and reacquainting themselves with their constituency, while I smiled and timidly edged stage right!

I actually did a bit of shaking because many were extending their hands!  Whoa!  ….that’s politicians territory!

I found Lauri and Sigin high in the balcony behind my left shoulder, they had a good view of the back of my head.  We did spend further time with Waltz and Franken afterward.

I’m trying to find a way to get out of the “secure area” that has been so cordoned off with security &  the barriers.   I head around behind the stage to see if I can get into the public side of things.

I see V.P. Biden leaving through the back door with Secret Service.  My eyes meet the last Secret Service man to exit in the defensive “V” position as they go backward thru the doors guarding his back and the door snaps shut.

Bill Keitel  8-23-12

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