Let me see a show of hands. How many of you out there can say that you’ve hosted the vice president of the United States in the living room of your home?
Kelly Johnson and her family will be able to say they did once Joe Biden takes his oath of office as our next vice president on Inauguration Day in January.
It was nearly a year ago, Thanksgiving weekend 2007 to be exact, when Kelly and her husband, Christopher, had Senator Biden at a town hall meeting in the living room of their Glenwood home. At the time, Biden was a candidate for president, trying to drum up support for his own candidacy prior to the Iowa Caucuses.
Talk about grassroots politics.
There was presidential candidate Biden, sitting on an ottoman in the middle of the Johnsons’ living room with about three dozen other people, sipping on coffee, munching on Kelly’s freshly-baked chewy oatmeal raisin cookies and talking about the “Biden Exit Strategy” out of Iraq.
Biden made it a point on more than one occasion during the gathering to tell Kelly how much he liked the cookies.
“I went on good authority to find out what his favorite cookie was,” Kelly said with a laugh last week when reminded of Biden’s praise for the cookies. “We went up the chain of command and found out they were chewy oatmeal raisin cookies. I guess they were quite a hit.”
The Johnsons were asked to host the gathering after they attended Biden campaign appearances in Council Bluffs and Carroll.
The Johnsons were more than willing to have the senator from Delaware in their home because of the admiration and respect they’ve had for him since he caught their attention in 2003 while debating an issue on C-SPAN.
“My husband pointed him out to me and said. ‘You’ve really got to watch this guy. He’s no-nonsense. He doesn’t pull punches.’ He’s the kind of politician a person would really like,” Kelly said. “He was a person who did not seem to be trying to impress anybody or pandering to anybody. He made sure he got complete information when something presented to him wasn’t complete. When he had something to say, he said it. It felt honest and complete. He just seemed like the kind of statesman we all yearn for in a politician and nobody believes really exists.”
The Johnsons were so impressed by Biden that they actually sent him an e-mail in 2003, encouraging him to run for president in 2004. Biden didn’t run in 2004, but when he threw his hat in the ring for the 2008 election, the Johnsons were already onboard.
During the gathering in the Johnson home, Biden stressed the importance of the Iowa Caucuses, noting that he expected only one other candidate besides front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to remain in the race after the vote. He also made a prediction.
“The truth of the matter is, you Iowans are going to determine who the next president is going to be,” Biden said.
Biden’s words proved to be prophetic. Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucuses in January, igniting an unprecedented campaign that ended on Nov. 4 with the freshman senator from Illinois being elected president.
The Johnsons, of course, supported Biden on caucus night last January, but when their candidate lost the Hawkeye State and eventually dropped out of the race, they had a decision to make - get behind Obama or Clinton (or neither).
Kelly admits, she wasn’t sold on Obama right away, but once she studied his campaign and began listening to his message, she was won over. Obama, she believes, possesses the same qualities she admires so much about Biden.
“The more we heard about and learned about him, we started thinking, is there a possibility that there are two of the real deals in the same year in this country?”
By the end of the primary season last spring, Kelly and Christopher were both firmly behind Obama. The perfect ticket for the Democratic Party, they believed, would be Obama-Biden.
“We just kept our fingers crossed,” Kelly said. “If he (Obama) is a great as he seems to be, we know he’s going to be looking at Joe Biden. He has to be looking at Joe Biden. We felt all along that would make the strongest ticket.”
The Johnsons got their wish in August, prior to the Democratic National Conven-tion in Denver, when Obama announced that Biden was indeed his pick for Veep.
Kelly said it was important for Obama to select a running mate with a strong foreign policy background, but also a person who wasn’t viewed as just another Washington insider. “Biden’s an experienced candidate with the foreign policy experience, minus the good ‘ol boy network of Washington,” she said. “He (Obama) needed that experience on his ticket, but he had to be very careful that it couldn’t be somebody who seemed to be exactly the same person who Obama was campaigning against.
“Also, Biden has respect around the world. World leaders respect him and trust him. He’s a very smart man who’s thought so thoroughly about anything he speaks about.”
Kelly believes the nation got to see that Obama had indeed made the right selection for a running mate on Oct. 2, the night of the vice presidential debate between Biden and Sarah Palin. Biden clearly demonstrated he was the more-qualified candidate that night, Kelly believes, but did it in a way without appearing to be condescending or arrogant.
“He’s a class act,” she said. “He’s obviously very intelligent and very knowledgeable. It wasn’t a surprise for us.”
Kelly and Christopher Johnson were confident that the Obama-Biden ticket would prevail when Election Day finally rolled around last Tuesday. They enjoyed the evening with friends at an election watch party.
“It was exciting, but I have to be honest,” Kelly said. “I couldn’t see how this win wasn’t going to take place with this powerhouse ticket we have.
“We were hoping and praying that it wasn’t going to be like 2000 when we were up all night, and it wasn’t.”
Jan. 20, 2009, will be another exciting day for the Johnsons as they watch their former houseguest officially become the vice president of the United States.
Maybe Kelly will even bake a batch of chewy oatmeal raisin cookies on Inauguration Day to celebrate the occasion.