Obama beer tent visit draws owner's scorn

1:16 PM, Aug 14, 2012   |    comments
OBAMA BEER: President Barack Obama buys a beer at the Bud Light Booth during a campaign at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday August 13, 2012. (David Purdy/The Des Moines Register)
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

By The Des-Moines Register

Was the beer cup half full or half empty?

President Barack Obama's impact on what is arguably the Iowa State Fair's most storied watering hole has become a morning-after mini-debate over the breakfast bacon -- thanks to a tweet from Sen. Chuck Grassley, as well as fairgrounds chatter.

Obama's fair stop Monday evening required shutdown of the popular Bud Tent, the heart of fairgrounds nightlife at the intersection of E. 33rd Street and Grand Avenue. Fairgoers eager to greet the president were ushered inside, screened and scanned by the Secret Service and penned in by yellow caution tape. The entire production required at least two hours, and the president's sleek black coach bus pulled away from the Bud Tent by 8:30 p.m.

There are "two sides to this story," said Mike Cunningham II, the third generation owner of the 65-year-old Bud Tent.

On one hand, Cunningham, 39, appreciated the historical significance of Obama's visit: His great-grandfather, Lloyd Cunningham, was secretary of the fair board from 1942 to 1962 and was on hand to greet then-President Dwight Eisenhower when Ike visited the centennial fair in 1954 with Iowa's own President Herbert Hoover in tow. (That was the first of four visits by sitting presidents, followed by Gerald Ford in 1975, George W. Bush in 2002 and Obama on Monday.)

On the other hand, the small business owner side of Cunningham fumes that the president "put a damper on what I'm trying to do here." His Bud Tent was shut down at the most lucrative time of day, with a popular rock cover band, Hairball, about to perform at the Susan B. Knapp Amphitheater next door ¬ with legions of thirsty fans.

"I was in a position to make a campaign donation against my will," said Cunningham, a Republican.

Cunningham played the gracious host during the president's visit ¬ - smiled, posed for photos, raised a beer with Obama, gifted him a "Save Water; Drink Beer" T-shirt.

A tweet from Grassley Monday evening, in the senator's trademark abbreviated social media lingo, was one of the first signs of disgruntlement: "How does PresO justify havin secret service shut down the bud tent @ the state fair nd the owner told me he loses 50,000 n 1 nite."

Cunningham said that the more accurate figure for what he likely lost in sales Monday night is $25,000. He appreciated that fellow fair vendor Barksdale allowed him to set up a Bud beer station near the amphitheater stage and recoup some dollars from those Hairball fans.

To be clear, Obama did fork over cash to buy his own beer as he also offered to buy a round for 10 or so fairgoers in the vicinity.

Other vendors along the Grand Concourse seemed to enjoy business as usual.

Gary Kirke, owner of the nearby Jalapeño Pete's said the presidential visit had no effect on his sales.

The Bud Tent owner added that he hasn't yet replied to a phone message from Obama's staff asking him to respond publicly to Grassley's tweet.

"I wouldn't have voted for (Obama) before," Cunningham said. "I won't again."

The Des-Moines Register

Most Watched Videos