February 7, 2008
Dear candidate, please stop in when you're in Racine...
An Iowa native with deep and personal familial roots in politics, Gross bought the Grounds Keeper two and one-half years ago. This is the first year she's missed participating in the Iowa caucuses, but she's brought a little of that political excitement here.
And, hopefully, a candidate or two will follow.
Gross wrote all the presidential candidates a few months ago, inviting them to stop in at the shop when / if they campaign in Racine. There were 18 at the time she wrote; when we spoke this morning only five were left: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.
"I've heard from three of the five top candidates," she told me -- not wishing to disclose whose campaign staff had indicated a willingness to stop in. But she did reveal that the two who had not responded were Huckabee and Romney. (And, as we both learned later in the morning, Romney dropped out of the race today ... so he definitely won't be coming.)
Gross expects to hear ahead of time before any candidate shows up; certainly, the Secret Service will pay a visit first. "Unlike in Iowa, where the candidates just walk in," she said.
I wondered what she wrote to the candidates, to entice them to visit. Turns out, Cindy Gross comes from a family with interesting political connections, that she told the candidates about: An aunt dated Ronald Reagan when he was a radio announcer in Des Moines. Her grandmother made a home-cooked meal for John F. Kennedy. And her step-uncle is Carl Pohlad, owner of the Minnesota Twins and a big Democratic contributor.
While she waits for candidates to call -- and campaign visits to the state from all remain a strong possibility now that Wisconsin's Feb. 19 primary and our 92 delegates have gained in importance -- Gross continues to conduct a coffee bean caucus, an idea she's borrowed from Iowa City's Hamburg Inn #2. Each customer is allowed to put a single coffee bean in the jar of his or her favored candidate ... results to be counted right before the state votes in earnest. (If you want to know now, that's Obama's jar on the left, Hillary's on the right. Enlarge the picture and count away.)
Gross, diplomatically, refused to state which candidate, or even which political party, she prefers, although she concedes, "both of my grandmothers were straight Democratic; that's how they were brought up." She's participated in both party's caucuses at one time or another in Iowa, and says, "I look at who has the best values; who has the best morals."