On the Trail, One Aide Looms Over Obama
By ASHLEY PARKER
In the last year, Barack Obama has learned a thing or two about running for president, and Reggie Love has learned a thing or two about Barack Obama.
Mr. Love now knows that when it comes to food, Senator Obama "eats pretty much anything, from chicken wings and barbecue and ribs to grilled fish and steamed broccoli." But when he is campaigning in a small town with limited options, a cheeseburger is always a good bet. ("Cheddar is the cheese of choice," Mr. Love added.)
He knows that "the boss," as he calls Mr. Obama, likes MET-Rx chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars and bottles of a hard-to-find organic brew - Black Forest Berry Honest Tea. He keeps a supply of both on hand.
And he has learned that all campaigns have their superstitions - Senator John McCain has a penchant for heads-up coins - and that Mr. Obama is no exception. That means that Mr. Love and Mr. Obama, for luck, play basketball every primary day.
Mr. Love, 26, is Mr. Obama's body man, the personal aide who shadows the senator and anticipates everything he needs - and everything he does not need. He is not a bodyguard (security is provided by the Secret Service), but rather the ultimate assistant, rarely more than a body length away from the candidate.
Young, eager campaign aides are stock characters in movies and on television, but few have quite the √©lan of Mr. Love, who, at 6-foot-5, is about three inches taller than the tall candidate, fitter than the fit candidate (he can bench press more than 350 pounds) and cooler than the cool candidate.
"There's no doubt that Reggie is cooler than I am," Mr. Obama said, laughing, in a phone interview. "I am living vicariously through Reggie."
Mr. Love, who played football and basketball at Duke, usually starts the day with Mr. Obama with a dawn workout in the hotel gym. They end the day more than 15 hours later, often unwinding before bed by watching ESPN's "SportsCenter" or that night's big game. (Mr. Obama sometimes flosses his teeth to ESPN while lying down.)
What a body man does depends on the politician. Senator John Kerry's aide for his presidential race in 2004 was dubbed "part butler, part buddy." Bill Clinton's aide when he was president said their relationship sometimes felt more like that of an old married couple. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has a body woman, the efficient and glamorous Huma Abedin. On NBC's "The West Wing," President Josiah Bartlet treated his body man, Charlie Young, like a son.
Mr. Obama said he regarded "my guy, Reggie," as the kid brother he never had. "But maybe I'm saying that just because he technically could be my son," the Illinois senator said. "I don't want to admit my age."
Mr. Love said he had been hired with "no job description whatsoever."
"It was just like, 'You just go out there and - Take. Care. Of. Stuff,' " Mr. Love said, taking his time with each word.
Some of the "stuff" Mr. Love takes care of: When Mr. Obama makes calls to woo superdelegates, Mr. Love is at his side with a briefing book, dialing the numbers. When an outdoor speech ended on a windy day in Noblesville, Ind., he appeared behind Mr. Obama as he shook hands on the rope line. "Jacket?" he asked, a coat draped at the ready over his arm.
When Mr. Obama dropped food on his tie while eating in the car between stops, Mr. Love was ready with a Tide pen. He always carries one, along with ballpoint pens, and has turned himself into a walking dispensary of Sharpies, stationery, protein bars, throat lozenges, water, tea, Advil, Tylenol, Purell and emergency Nicorette, not to mention his ever-present iPhone, BlackBerry and Canon Rebel XT digital camera. (Mr. Love keeps a photo journal of the campaign, and has more than 10,000 pictures so far).
Compared with the even-tempered and self-controlled Mr. Obama, Mr. Love is raffish, always joking with the Secret Service, offering closed-fist high-fives to members of the news media and making frequent appearances in the daily pool reports. At a V.F.W. hall in Indiana, he helped out when the senator did not want a second Budweiser, taking it off Mr. Obama's hands.
Mr. Obama often mentions that Mr. Love was a wide receiver on a football scholarship at Duke who also walked onto the basketball team. At a rally a few weeks ago in Mr. Love's hometown, Charlotte, N.C., the candidate led the crowd in a chant of "Reggie, Reggie, Reggie!"
After the Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia in April, Mr. Obama borrowed a move from the rapper Jay-Z and mimed brushing off his shoulders, but it was Mr. Love who had uploaded his music to the senator's iPod in the first place - a silver Nano that he bought the senator for his 46th birthday.
"So I've gotten pretty fond of Jay-Z," Mr. Obama said. "He's broadened my horizons in the hip-hop world."
In turn, Mr. Obama said he had gotten Mr. Love into "everything from John Coltrane to Frank Sinatra."
"I think he's got the most eclectic music of any 26-year-old," the senator said.
Along the way, some unofficial rules have emerged between the candidate and his aide. From Mr. Obama: "One cardinal rule of the road is, we don't watch CNN, the news or MSNBC. We don't watch any talking heads or any politics. We watch 'SportsCenter' and argue about that."
And from Mr. Love: Expect to be grilled about everything as if you were a first-year law student.
When Mr. Obama hits a rough patch in the campaign, Mr. Love is sympathetic. In college, embarrassing pictures of an inebriated Mr. Love from a fraternity house party surfaced on the Internet. "You make mistakes and you learn from them, and you try to use them to make you a better person," he said. After graduating with a degree in political science and public policy, Mr. Love had summer try-outs with the Green Bay Packers in 2004 and the Dallas Cowboys in 2005 before being cut.
Which is how, in 2006, after applying for an internship on Capitol Hill, Mr. Love ended up interviewing with Robert Gibbs, Mr. Obama's communications director, for a position in Mr. Obama's Senate office. "It's the only time I've ever interviewed somebody whose work experience included the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys," Mr. Gibbs said.
Sports these days, for the candidate and his aide, are limited to morning workouts. And, of course, the primary day basketball games.
"He's quick and he's strong," Mr. Love said of Mr. Obama. "A lot of people still don't know that he's left-handed, so he can get to the basket and get his shot off, even though he's not the most explosive or tallest player on the court."
If Mr. Obama thinks Mr. Love is dogging it on the court, he can come down hard, shouting at him to hustle, said someone who has played basketball with the two of them.
But on the day of the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Mr. Love and Mr. Obama played at noon and kept up an easy rhythm. "Sorry, Reg, I missed you," the senator said after a pass to Mr. Love was intercepted. Later, on a fast-break, Mr. Obama dribbled up the right side of the court and passed the ball ahead to Mr. Love, who slam-dunked it.
Later that night, after the senator gave his victory speech in Raleigh after winning the North Carolina primary, Mr. Love rode to the airport with Mr. Obama, who was flying to Chicago. Mr. Love was staying behind in his home state to catch up with friends. (His parents now live in California, and Mr. Love managed to squeeze in a visit there last weekend.)
"Michelle was like: 'Where are you staying? Don't get into too much trouble,' " Mr. Love said of Mr. Obama's wife.
Waiting ahead, after all, were more early mornings in the gym and more long days on the road.
Hold the Mayo
As Senator Barack Obama's body man, Reggie Love makes sure the candidate has plenty of the things he likes - and makes note of those things he would rather avoid.‚Ä®Here is a partial list, provided by Mr. Love.
- Planters Trail Mix: Nuts, Seeds & Raisins
- Roasted almonds
- Dentyne Ice
- MET-Rx chocolate roasted peanut protein bars
- Vegetables, especially broccoli and spinach
- Handmade milk chocolates from Fran's Chocolates in Seattle
- Salt and vinegar potato chips
- Asparagus ("if no other vegetables are available, he'll eat it")
- Soft drinks (he prefers water)