SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Perhaps the only thing that could distract patrons from watching college football Saturday at Bob Roe's Point After Pizza was a surprise visit from the president of the United States.
Barack Obama ordered a pepperoni pizza and watched football at the Sioux City sports bar, much to the surprise of the folks who already were eating there. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Iowa's former governor, joined the president.
“We had a full house,” said Bob Roe, the restaurant's owner. “Nobody could believe it.”
Obama made the unscheduled visit between Iowa campaign stops as he makes his way to the Democratic National Convention later this week in Charlotte, N.C.
Roe said he got about a 30-minute heads-up that Obama would be visiting.
Arriving about 4:30 p.m., the president shook hands and posed for pictures with patrons.
Roe said the restaurant is a hot spot for Nebraska, Iowa and Iowa State fans. All three teams had games being broadcast — Roe said he has about 40 televisions.
As Obama roamed the lounge, Iowa fans who filled the place groaned as Northern Illinois scored a long touchdown against the Hawkeyes.
“I don't want to be associated with that play,” Obama told three dejected men as he arrived at their table.
Roe said the president's tab was $14 and that he left a $20 bill on the table. He took the pizza with him.
Obama stayed about 30 minutes, then headed to Morningside College, where he spoke for about 20 minutes to several hundred people.
In his remarks, the Democratic president said his platform of providing health care reform, affordable education, jobs, a strong military and tax reform is the best option for middle-class voters.
“A strong, thriving middle class is what built this country,” Obama said.
America, he said, should be a place “where you can pursue your own happiness and you can make it if you try.”
Richard Twohig, 56, a registered Democrat from Sioux City, said Obama's remarks “energized” him. He said Obama's calls for affordable education and support for veterans appealed to him most.
“He reaffirmed my belief that he needs to continue to serve as commander in chief,” Twohig said.
Obama criticized Republican opponent Mitt Romney, saying the GOP platform would give tax cuts to the wealthiest and do nothing to help regular working families. The president vowed not to raise taxes on families making less than $250,000.
Judith Olson, 70, a retired educator from Spencer, wore a red-white-and-blue visor. She said Obama's appearance got her fired up for Election Day.
“He was wonderful,” she said. “He's on the right track for us.”
Earlier in the day, Obama appeared at Living History Farms in Urbandale, a Des Moines surburb.
The president's visit to the Point After must have left an impression — or maybe he just had college football on the brain.
As he greeted the Morningside crowd, Obama said he wouldn't start a debate over who was better: the Hawkeyes or Huskers.
“I'm not going to go there,” Obama joked.
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