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Chicago Tribune - Obama does housework, homecare for labor support

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Location: OAKLAND, CA


Chicago Tribune - Obama does housework, homecare for labor support

Mike Dorning

With a television crew and photographers in tow, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama spent Wednesday morning mopping floors, cleaning cobwebs and preparing breakfast for an 86-year-old wheelchair-bound amputee, as he accompanied a home health care worker on her daily duties.

A day on the job has become a new ritual of the Democratic presidential campaign this year, after the powerful 1.9 million-member Service Employees International Union demanded that candidates "Walk a Day in My Shoes" with a union member in order to be considered for endorsement.

On Wednesday, it was the Illinois senator's turn. Obama joined 61-year-old Pauline Beck, an African-American woman with gray hair and an easy manner, as she cared for John Thornton, a retired cement mason and widower who lives in a modest clapboard home in a low-income neighborhood of Oakland.

"I'm not going to lie to you. It's been a while," Obama said, after mopping the kitchen and bathrooms.

"I probably haven't mopped a floor since I started my Senate race," Obama continued, though he quickly added, "Before that, that wasn't something I was averse to doing."

Obama gamely assembled Thornton's customary breakfast of coffee, frosted flakes and watermelon cubes, washed and folded laundry and gingerly approached the task of making the bed.

"Is this the way he likes it?" Obama asked. "This is the hard part for me. My wife says I'm kind of shaky."

It was hardly an ordinary day. Beck, who usually commutes to work in a minivan, arrived in an SUV with a Secret Service motorcade, after Obama started the day at 6 a.m. with breakfast at her house.

Union officials rotated photographers in and out of the Thornton's home. And Thornton spent the first few minutes staring up at the boom microphone bobbing above his head until he finally asked, "What is that?"

Obama took the opportunity to promote the importance of home health care workers and paid sick leave and vacation time for service workers, benefits which Beck said she does not receive.

Afterward, Obama declared himself satisfied with his on-the-job experience, which lasted about two hours.

"One of the dangers of a presidential campaign is you start living in the bubble," Obama said. "You don't always have time to spend just listening. And this was important to me to just remind me why I'm doing this. This is about some sense of mission."

Beck, a single woman with two foster children and a 2-year-old great-grand-nephew living in her home, said Obama would "probably" have her support in the election.

"He wanted to get a feel for everything I did," she said "He insisted on doing everything."

The next candidate scheduled for time on the job with a union member is Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who is to accompany a nurse in Las Vegas.


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