Appetite for Votes: Candidates Count Calories on the Campaign Trail

Beer, waffles and chocolate almost as popular as votes on the trail.


April 26, 2008 — -- Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are locked in a bitter battle for the right to challenge John McCain for the keys to the White House in January.

But as the dueling Democrats crisscross the nation in a frantic search for votes and delegates, they also face another formidable foe: campaign calories.

Clinton hasn't been afraid to consume a calorie or two in pursuit of a vote.

As the Democratic senator from New York began her long march toward the nomination, she proudly declared that she intended to "eat [her] way across the [Iowa State] Fair."

Clinton was true to her word, enjoying a Wonder Bar, pork on a stick and a variety of other treats before joining Iowa's former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack over the barbecue.

Clinton also does her best to avoid being grilled, often defrosting her sometimes cold image by enjoying a beer or a meal with the reporters who doggedly follow her every move.

The senator frequently jaunts to the back of her campaign plane holding a beer -- occasionally Blue Moon but most often the brand is obscured by the clever employment of a Solo red cup.

But no matter the variety of hops, Clinton usually tops her brew with sliced oranges -- a tradition she picked up in the South.

On the morning her rival demanded of the press, "Why can't I just eat my waffle?" when making a campaign stop at the Glider Diner in Scranton, Pa., Clinton ordered a relatively healthy omelet.

After enjoying that, Clinton spotted a staffer noshing on a mountain of French toast -- famously called Stuffed French Toast -- which included sweet cream cheese and strawberries on four slices of stacked French toast.

Clinton placed an order for one, got two forks and ended up sharing it with a reporter who was interviewing her at the Bonnet Lane Family Restaurant in Abington, Pa.

Obama, by comparison, is a little more calorie conscious when it comes to chowing down on local grub -- usually just taking the obligatory taste.

At a stop early this month at the famous Wilbur's Chocolates in Lititz, Pa., Obama took one piece of chocolate offered to him from a jar full of local delicacies.

"Quite tasty," he responded, but the candidate turned down another piece, prompting the chocolate maker to kid him that they don't count when you are in a chocolate factory.

Stopping at the Heidelberg Family restaurant in Robesonia, Pa., before the state's primary Obama was offered a piece of pizza, but he turned that down too, implying that if he munched on one slice, he'd inevitably enjoy too many.

At another stop lat month in Greenville, Mississippi, Obama ordered a whole breakfast plate at Buck's Restaurant: scrambled eggs, wheat toast, turkey sausage and grits. But at the end of the breakfast the senator, according to the pool report, "barley made a dent" in his breakfast.

At a Louisiana restaurant in February a woman offered Obama more food, saying that he needs to "put a little more meat on his bones." It wasn't the first such comment on the trail. At a Wisconsin fish fry restaurant, patrons commented that the candidate needs to eat more. No matter, he won both states.

Obama jokes regularly on the campaign trail that he's "skinny but tough" and is known for his early morning workouts and basketball games with staffers. His normal snack on the airplane, as he flies from event to event campaigning, is fruit, pistachios and Fiji water.

When it comes to beer, Obama is just as judicious.

At Sharky's Cafe in March, Obama and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., toasted over a pint of beer. Obama drank two sips of his and then greeted bar patrons. At the end of his visit he picked up his beer again and drank one last sip, leaving seven-eights in the glass.

A similar scene played out at Bethlehem BrewWorks, at a local brewery in Pennsylvania, when Obama took a medium-size beer and said, "I can't drink the whole thing cause I'm … supposed to be at a town hall meeting. But I can sample a little."

The candidate took a few obligatory sips but left half of the mini pint on the table.

There is one 2008 campaigner -- though he's not on the ballot -- whose taste for food on the trail is well known.

Former President Bill Clinton has spent the last four months living in a land of temptation: in Texas it was tacos; in Mississippi, it was fried fish; and coming up in North Carolina? Barbecue.

"I hope you got some fish. This is supposed to be a fish fry. More important, I hope I get some before I have to leave," Clinton told the crowd In Tupelo, Miss., as hush puppies bobbed in oil not far from the former president.

Late in March, as Clinton spent a day in eastern Kentucky, he stopped by a local Dairy Queen, trying his hand at serving their famous soft serve.

Clinton did manage to resist the famous cheese steaks and fries of Pennsylvania, but that didn't stop the missus from taking him to task.

"You gotta help me out here because my husband loves North Carolina, and he loves barbecue and he's been eating a lot of it across the state," the New York senator said at a Friday event in Jacksonville, N.C.

Perhaps her fears are unfounded: during an impromptu stop at a local Charlotte restaurant, Clinton lunched on a gardenburger.