The bear was loose in a big way on Tuesday night in Denver.
President Barack Obama this week passed through Denver — the city where he accepted the nomination for president six years ago — to raise money for Democratic Senate candidates and make a speech about the economy, but found time to play a game of pool with Gov. John Hickenlooper and shake hands with someone wearing a horse head mask during about 20 hours in town. He also had dinner at a popular LoDo eatery with five Coloradans who had written letters to the White House.
Presidential aides say “the bear is loose” when Obama departs from the public schedule — the phrase dates back to the early days of the campaign when Obama “shook off his schedule and busted out of the bubble,” according to Obama senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer — and it was an expected part of the trip to Denver on Tuesday and Wednesday, part of a tour that concluded with a high-profile visit to Texas.
Air Force One set down just before 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Denver International Airport, according to pool reporters who accompanied Obama on his Denver sojourn. U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter accompanied the president on the flight and departed the plane with him before the presidential motorcade sped him toward Lower Downtown.
Obama was greeted with cheers by patrons of the Wazee Supper Club when he arrived. “That’s a cool ‘stache,” he told one of the Wazee bartenders, complimenting the two-tone extravaganza. “We’re going to have some pizza and talk,” Obama said as he sat down with five Coloradans, including Alex Dooley, who thanked Obama for calling on businesses to raise the minimum wage after her boss gave her a raise at her furniture upholstery job.
The others who joined Obama for pizza — he recognized them and described their messages during a speech the next morning at Cheesman Park in Denver — were Elizabeth Cooper, a junior at the University of Northern Colorado majoring in mathematics with federal student loans, who wrote to the president about college affordability; Carolyn Reed and David Johnson, who own six Silver Mine Subs shops and wanted to thank Obama for a Small Business Administration loan that allowed them to expand; and Leslie Gresham, a teacher who wrote about the importance of early childhood education.
After an hour at the Wazee, Obama headed toward the presidential limousine but bolted to shake hands with the assembled crowd on 15th Street.
“High fives, fist bumps,” he said as he obliged requests from the crowd, which included a man in a horse head — “it’s unclear what message he hoped to convey to the president,” wrote the national pool reporter, who apparently doesn’t understand Broncos culture in Denver.
The motorcade then headed to the Wynkoop Brewing Company, the brewery-restaurant co-founded by Hickenlooper, where Obama and the governor played a game of pool over a beer. Obama, the pool reporter noted, played solids and Hickenlooper had stripes.
While the game got off to a slow start, Obama rallied and sunk multiple shots to win the game. “Did you record that?” Obama asked reporters and photographers. “I take a little longer to warm up,” Hickenlooper said, though the president pointed out that Hickenlooper had left five balls on the table. “Five,” he said. “Five.”
The president spent the night at the Renaissance Denver Hotel.
The next morning, on the way to Cheesman Park for the scheduled speech, the motorcade drove past anti-abortion protestors displaying aborted fetuses and a man clad in a tie-dyed shirt who held a sign that read “Yes We Cannabis.”
Following his speech in the park, Obama and crew headed to the Westin Denver Downtown for a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Mark Udall — who changed plans that morning and stayed in Washington rather than attend the Denver affair — and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, where he was introduced by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. At about 1 p.m., the motorcade departed downtown and headed back to DIA to catch a flight on Air Force One for Dallas and Austin.
See the July 11 print edition for full photo coverage.