‘08: Year of Obama

Growing up in Hawaii helped make Barack Obama a citizen of the world, with an outlook unlike any other presidential candidate running in ‘08

Dan Boylan
Wednesday - January 02, 2008
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On the stump in Iowa - like his father, Obama is a powerful orator
On the stump in Iowa - like his father, Obama is a powerful orator

Barack Obama didn’t make it home for Christmas this year. He passed up golfing in Hawaii and visiting his grandmother, Madelyn Duncan. For the first time in years, he was too busy to make the trip. His business took him, of course, to chilly, windblown Iowa, where on Jan. 3, Democrats will hold the first presidential caucus of election year 2008.

So Obama’s family gathered around him instead in his home in Chicago. Sister Maya SoetoroNg, her daughter Suhaila, and husband Konrad were there, as Maya has been for the past six weeks - six weeks during which she’s ventured forth each day to campaign for her brother around the country.

So too were sister Auma and her daughter Akinyi. Auma is Obama’s father’s daughter by his first marriage in Kenya.

And of course wife Michelle and their daughters Sasha and Malia. The family had begun to arrive in Chicago over the weekend. Obama himself was the last to arrive, on Christmas Eve, having squeezed in campaigning until the last moment before the holiday.

“On Christmas morning we ate a hearty breakfast,” says Maya Soetoro-Ng. “Then we opened presents for the kids. We invited the Secret Service in to join us.

“My husband, Konrad, had filmed Toot (Obamaese for Tutu, i.e., Grandma Madelyn ) before he left Honolulu to come up here. We watched her speak to us - through some of our tears. She can’t travel anymore.

“We sat and chatted the rest of the afternoon; it was a relaxing and lazy day.” Soetoro-Ng admitted a degree of exhaustion in her brother, but described him as peaceful as well. “I think he knows he’s run a good campaign and that whatever transpires, he’s done his best. At this point, it’s up to the American people.”

The Obama clan took their Christmas dinner at a Chicago hotel, one with a “private room and a good kid section.” In the evening they played their “traditional Christmas game of Scrabble. Last year in Honolulu I beat Barack twice,” says Maya. “This year, he won on a last, seven-point word.

“I’d like to say I gave it to him to build him up for the last days before the Iowa caucus. But he really beat me.”

At 12:30 p.m., the Saturday before Christmas, Barack Obama gave a speech in the auditorium of the municipal building in Indianola, Iowa, a city of 14,000 or so located 12 miles south of Des Moines. Introducing him to the crowd was Peg Mikulanec, a retired school teacher and her precinct’s co-chair of the Obama effort. Her husband, Jim, the owner of a construction company, is Obama’s co-chair, and - until this year - a registered Republican. He helped seat people.

In a recent Iowa speach, Obama 'did not mince words'
In a recent Iowa speach, Obama ‘did not mince words’

Three-hundred-and-sixty people packed the auditorium, including a healthy contingent from the local and national press. The Mikulanecs’ son, Jacce, a resident of Hawaii and staffer for Honolulu City Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz, was home for the holidays. Mom and Dad assigned him to deal with the press.

“It was an incredibly diverse crowd,” says Jacce Mikulanec, “diverse in terms of ages and ethnically mixed. I was in Iowa for the 2004 campaign, and the crowds were much more middle-aged.

“Obama stayed for more than an hour. He talked about No Child Left Behind, the burden of college debt, the Iraq war, labor issues. He spoke in a way that was very clear, very straight-forward. He doesn’t parse his words. I heard lots of people contrast that with Hillary Clinton’s style.

“My dad compares him with Bobby Kennedy: his call for change and the newness and freshness of his appeal. My dad sees him as an agent of change, a break from Washington. It was really exciting. There was magnetism in the room.”

Jacce Mikulanec visited briefly with Obama after the talk. “I’d brought him a maile lei. We talked about Hawaii. He speaks very fondly of it.”

As well he might. The day had been clear when Obama entered the auditorium. It was snowing when he left; six inches would


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