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Columbia Missourian

McCain convenes BBQ business meeting

By Amanda Woytus, Amanda Kushner, Molly Harbarger, Hayley Tsukayama
October 20, 2008 | 6:49 p.m. CDT

Republican presidential hopeful visits Columbia.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain reaches out to supporters after eating lunch in Columbia on Monday afternoon. He arrived at the Columbia Regional Airport around 12:30 p.m. and ate at Buckingham Smokehouse B-B-Q before leaving the city.

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain ate lunch with local business owners at Buckingham Smokehouse Bar-B-Q, and greeted a crowd of about 150 people outside the restaurant.


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Katie Fudge, 20, a waitress at Buckingham for almost three years, was picked to serve McCain a hot link special with beans and coleslaw. She said she was nervous, but said he was "very, very friendly" and seemed just like a normal person.

"I really didn't have to say much to him," she said.

Secret Service checked all the servers' backgrounds before they were allowed in the restaurant. On Sunday, Fudge gave the Secret Service her Social Security number and name. The restaurant was searched thoroughly, from every speck on the floor to every sauce bottle on the tables. Nevertheless, Fudge said she treated McCain like a normal customer.

She was excited to serve him, but her grandfather, Abraham "Iggy" Ignacio, was even more excited. Ignacio served in the Army under McCain's father in Korea .

"He was more excited than anyone in the world," she said.

Fudge said she was "bummed out" that she couldn't hear much of the political talk over lunch because she was busy serving. She said the group tipped really well, even though it was all paid on one check.

Buckingham owner Mark Brown said that he didn't cover the tab and that he was not making a political statement by hosting McCain's lunch. He said he was only doing his job.

"I sell food, and they eat food."

Brown agreed to U.S. Sen. Kit Bond's request to eat at the local barbecue joint because Bond has been frequenting Buckingham and hiring it as a caterer for eight years. Brown said the restaurant is usually full at lunch anyway, so the 100 or so people, including the press eating outside, was close to a normal day.

"We just fed more interesting people today than usual," Brown said, referring to McCain, Bond and former Missouri Sen. Jack Danforth and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Bond asked Brown to sit at his table and tell the group stories from his rock 'n' roll days. Mostly, the discussion focused on small-business issues.

A group of small-business owners, mostly from Columbia, met with McCain to discuss the economy, taxes and other factors that affect their businesses. Christi Wolverton, co-founder and administrator of the land development group R. Anthony ,sat catty-corner from McCain.

Bond staffer Jason VanEaton contacted Wolverton, who quickly provided him a list of business owners who might be interested in meeting with McCain. She said McCain wanted feedback from the business owners.

"He didn't talk a lot," Wolverton said. "He just wanted opinions."

She said it was an experience she definitely would remember. "How often do you get to meet a presidential candidate face to face?"

Brad Eiffert, vice-president of Boone County Lumber, received his invitation Sunday night. He wasn't sitting with McCain, but described the small meeting as a "diverse mix of small-business owners" and said the atmosphere was "low key."

Eiffert met McCain in June through his role as chairman of the National Federation of Independent Business. The federation learned that a mutual friend who flew with Eiffert was held captive at the Hanoi Hilton at the same time as McCain.

After McCain finished his lunch, he spoke to the press and greeted most of the people in the restaurant.

"We had a good lunch and a long discussion about the need to bring this country into a new direction," McCain said. "I am proud to be in the company of these people that are the backbone of America's economy."

McCain then went outside to shake hands with the crowd.

He paused to speak with only one woman, Marla Grothoff. She was wearing a shirt that said "War Hero and No-Nonsense Hockey Mom, The Only Choice in '08," below pictures of McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

"Save our country for us," she said.

"I'm honored to see you," he replied, and autographed her sweatshirt. Grothoff said she will frame the shirt and "never wear it again."

Loni Russell, a member of the Rock Bridge Young Republicans, stood across the street with more than 20 other students from Rock Bridge who attended the event, and waited for McCain to arrive. She came to see McCain because she said she admires him for serving in the military.

When Russell got the opportunity to take a photograph with him, she said she was thinking "I can't believe I'm touching John McCain."

Libertarian Wes Upchurch, who is running for secretary of state, stood among the crowd with a Bob Barr sign in hand. Upchurch said he came to tell people that, "a vote for McCain or Obama is the same to me," referring to his belief that the Republican and Democratic parties are very similar.

Although there were a handful of people supporting Democrat Barack Obama outside the restaurant, most were McCain supporters who cheered loudly as their candidate worked the crowd.

Earlier in the day, McCain's plane, Straight Talk Express, landed about 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 12:25 p.m. at Columbia Regional Airport. A crowd of only 15 assembled outside the fence to watch McCain arrive.

As he disembarked from the plane, a man from the crowd yelled, "Go get 'em, John," as others applauded. Several met McCain at the foot of the plane's stairs.

McCain shook a few hands and embraced Christine Ellinger, the campaign's 4th Congressional District co-chair, when she asked for a hug. Ellinger said she was completely impressed with McCain. "He's dynamic, very caring."

Florence Phillips was dropping off her daughter at the airport when another of her daughters, Cheryl Daubin, told her McCain was landing.

Phillips, who also saw John F. Kennedy at the Joplin Airport in 1962, said she was upset at the small size of the crowd gathered to see McCain.

McCain campaign volunteer Jane Stuart was disappointed that the visit was not publicized. In 2000, when then-Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush visited the airport, there was a much larger crowd, Stuart said.

When McCain left, Stuart and others followed his motorcade to Buckingham.

"It is exciting to see someone that represents your values," Stuart said.

Columbia Daily Tribune reporter Jason Rosenbaum, who drew the pool assignment for the McCain visit, contributed to this report.