Charleston has a special place in the heart of president-elect Barack Obama, as anyone who heard his victory speech Tuesday night could tell.
"Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington. It began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and on the front porches of Charleston," he told the crowd of 1 million gathered at Chicago's Grant Park and millions more watching at home.
Obama spent a warm spring day on one of Charleston's most handsome porches during a campaign stop in April 2007.
He spoke to a crowd of 1,500 at Burke High School but spent much of the day at a fundraising event at 21 King St., home of venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith and his wife Elizabeth Hazard, who had moved here from Boston.
At least 150 people paid $1,000 each to dine on shrimp, rice and green beans with Barack and Michelle Obama in the courtyard and on the piazzas of their spacious home a few blocks from The Battery.
"It was truly astonishing," said Dintersmith, reached by phone in Seattle, where he and his wife and two children now live.
"Both Michelle and Barack were so gracious, and even though Michelle had to leave right afterward to fly back to Chicago, Barack stayed around for quite a while, signing his book for people and just talking," he said. "It wasn't like when everybody left, he turned into a different persona. He was just the same as when he was in public, very low-key, very nice."
Standing on their porch, Michelle Obama gave a speech in which she marveled at the home, saying, "Talk about the White House, I think this house is pretty terrific. I'd like to come back and spend the night!"
When Obama later returned to Charleston, he spoke with Franklin Ashley, a College of Charleston professor and an early Obama supporter. He reminisced with Ashley about his first visit here, telling him, "Coming to that luncheon was a very important time for me because it was then that I thought if that many people from a place like Charleston would pay $1,000 to come have lunch with me, that I just might have a real chance to win."
He recently made known his fondness for the city again when he spoke with Mayor Joe Riley during a U.S. Conference of Mayors event in Miami.
"He was getting ready to talk to the mayors to discuss urban policies, and he said, 'You know Joe, I really love Charleston. It's such a beautiful and restful place. I look forward to coming back,' " Riley recalled.
Phil Noble, a member of the Obama statewide steering committee and president of the South Carolina New Democrats, said when Obama made his first stop in South Carolina — for a January 2007 rally in Columbia — he briefed Obama about South Carolina's political and cultural history. He gave Obama a Palmetto State tie.
"I also told him our state motto was: 'While I breathe, I hope,' " Noble said. "Barack's eyes lit up and he said, "Hey, I think I can use that some time.' "
Noble said he had been puzzled that Obama didn't make more use of it during his primary campaign here, but he heard it Tuesday night.
"This is our moment," Obama said. "This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes we can."
David Agnew, a Charleston businessman who joined Obama's campaign early on, said that fundraising event on the Dintersmiths' porch proved to be a metaphor for Obama's campaign.
"There were blacks, whites, Republicans, Democrats and undecideds," Agnew said, "but most of all, after hearing Barack's and Michelle's speeches, all of them were fired up and totally ready to go."
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