Grand County campaigners given VIP passes to Obama speech
September 22, 2008
Polly Cullen of Winter Park and Arizona is saving campaign memorabilia and photos for a shadowbox she plans to create. The 62-year-old artist and Barack Obama campaign leader said she hasn’t gone to bat for a president since the 1970s.
All summer she’s been making campaign phone calls and in doing so has had “very interesting conversations with all kinds of folks,” she said. “I’m learning an awful lot from doing that work. I wouldn’t do it easily for just anybody.”
Last Monday, after a summer of work on behalf of the Democratic presidential nominee, she got the chance to meet him in person.
Two other Grand County team leaders, Gail Brooks of Grand Lake and Sally Osgood of Winter Park Highlands, joined Cullen in what was a chance to stand with Obama, shake his hand and pose for a photo immediately following his speech in Grand Junction.
“We were just giddy; we couldn’t believe we were getting to do this,” Cullen said.
She had been following Obama’s political climb since his convention key-note speech in 2004. She’d also attended the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver with Brooks and Osgood.
But seeing him at a venue with 6,000 people in Grand Junction compared to the mega-crowds of the DNC was an honor, she said. “This was more fun because it was more up-close and personal.”
Standing just 10 feet from the podium while Obama delivered his speech, Cullen said she took the chance to really study the man she’d spent so much of her time supporting.
It was a relief to her to find out he was the type of person she’d hoped, she said. Cullen described Obama as having been “genuine,” “at ease,” was “comfortable with the crowd” and “didn’t even look tired” despite a rigorous campaign season.
“He never seemed stiff, awkward, or twitchy. He was so present,” she said.
When it came time to be ushered backstage, the three Grand County honorees joined a group of about 25 other campaign team leaders from nearby counties. Cullen said she noticed Secret Service “very much there all the time making sure we were good people.”
After handshakes, Cullen took a position for the camera shot. To her surprise, Obama happened to be standing next to her.
“Can I put my arm around you?” she asked Obama as photographers fiddled with cameras.
“He said, ‘Sure,'” she said.
Hesitant to tell the next part of the story, Cullen prefaced it by noting she is an older lady and still doesn’t know what came over her.
“Can I tickle you?” Cullen asked Obama as they stared at cameras. According to Cullen, he again responded, “Sure.”
So she gave the presidential candidate a harmless tickle, and he laughed as the flashes went off.
Cullen picked up the developed photos on Thursday. Sure enough, Obama is laughing.
“I still have a grin on my face,” Cullen said, recapping the day.
Fellow campaign leader Osgood had gotten up before dawn and had worn her “Obama” T-shirt to attend the speech with her daughter, a friend and her 14-year-old grandson, whose visit to a presidential campaign speech was the substitute for school that day.
He was lent grandma’s campaign button.
“He jumped up on a trash can and took some photographs,” Osgood said. “He’s learning about the process of electing a president. It’s a civics-oriented lesson, so well worth taking him for sure.”
And Brooks, who has seen Obama speak several times, said the candidate looked “road-worn” since a previous time she’d seen him up close.
“It was very exciting to be one of the ones to have gotten a VIP pass,” Brooks said.
“Had I been ready I would have said something to him, but I didn’t. I was just in awe.”
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail