Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Obama's 'body man' on his game"

Chicago Tribune:
Ex-Duke athlete and 'good people person' Reggie Love helps keep senator fit, fed and hydrated on trail--Reggie Love makes sure the water bottle is always full, the PowerBars are stocked and that the boss gets out of bed on time for his daily exercise regimen.

The former football and basketball player at Duke University is what presidential campaigns call a "body man."
Every major candidate has one. Love, 25, has walked -- literally -- in Sen. Barack Obama's shadow since February, acting as something of a traveling valet to make sure the Illinois Democrat's personal needs are met.

He snaps photos when supporters ask that their picture be taken with the candidate, makes sure there is always a Sharpie marker at the ready for autographs and keeps the candidate's favorite music loaded on the iPod.

Love also plays basketball with the candidate whenever they can squeeze in a game. And no, he says, he never lets the boss win on purpose.

"There is nothing worse than losing to Barack Obama," Love said Wednesday as he waited for Obama to finish a fundraiser at a home in Tiburon. "You never hear the end of it."

A top receiver on Duke's football team and a member of its 2001 national championship basketball team, Love does not fit the stereotype of the young Washington geek who typically fills the body man role.

That he is an athlete seems natural for sports-loving Obama. The television on the campaign bus is more commonly tuned to ESPN than CNN.

To watch Love work is to absorb the underpinnings of the modern, always-on-the-go presidential campaign. He flies on a chartered plane with the candidate, but there are plenty of humbling demands.

On one trip last summer, Obama ordered Love, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall, to take the shirt off his back when a family in Dubuque, Iowa, asked whether he had any campaign T-shirts with him.

At the Iowa State Fair, Obama tossed a bag of caramel corn to Love for safekeeping.

"Those are All-ACC hands right there," Obama said as Love, who was a top player in the Atlantic Coast Conference, caught the bag from a considerable distance.

Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director, said one of the reasons Love seemed like a good fit for the job was that his time in sports made him accustomed to being in front of large groups of people.

"He's the only person I've interviewed who has the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers on his resume," Gibbs said, noting Love's brief time in the National Football League.

Part of Love's job is to anticipate the candidate's needs. If it's going to get cold after dark, he is the guy charged with making sure there is a jacket packed in the car for the senator.

"He takes a layer of worry away from the candidate and the rest of the traveling staff and lets Barack focus on talking to voters," Gibbs said.

Asked what Love does well -- and what he could do better -- his boss had nothing but praise for the man who makes sure the candidate remains productive in the air and on the ground.

"Like me, I think he's even-tempered," Obama said in a recent interview aboard his campaign bus in Iowa. "He doesn't take himself too seriously."

Obama said Love, who graduated with degrees in political science and public policy, is often his best ambassador on the campaign trail.

"He's a good-hearted person, and people who meet him immediately warm up to him," Obama said. "His job, often times, is managing other people who want me here or want me there, or are making requests, or are wanting some phone call out of me. Having somebody who is a good people person is really important."

Obama said Love, who joined his Senate office in January 2006, has a fairly easy boss.

"I think he will tell you that I'm not overly high-maintenance," he said. "I'm not somebody who needs my grapes peeled."

Should Love need any guidance, he has what Obama calls a "tutor" with him on the road.

Marvin Nicholson, who rooms with Love most nights and is the campaign's national trip director, served as Sen. John Kerry's body man during his 2004 presidential campaign.

"If you can get the two of them to share any stories about what they do on the road when I'm not around, I'll be interested," Obama said with a smile.

Nicholson, a former bartender and golf caddie, made sure Kerry was supplied with peanut butter and strawberry jelly sandwiches.

"The job is tough," said Nicholson, 36. "It's a grind, but the kid wakes up smiling and he goes to bed smiling."

Nicholson said Obama and Love have something of a father-son relationship filled with much teasing. There has been a running debate between them -- for months -- over who is the best NBA point guard.

Love, who got into some trouble for drinking issues during college, is often out late at night socializing with reporters, Secret Service agents and members of the campaign after a long day on the road.

"Reggie is very popular, so pretty much every place we go, people want to go out with him," Nicholson explains.

Still, Love is always there in the morning, waiting outside the senator's door with his headphones on and ready for that 45-minute workout.



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