Rowdy Smith, who brought his sons to the St. Louis Rams game on Sunday, said that President Obama's "not a leader" and is hurting the energy industry. He's shown here walking in front of the Americans for Prosperity campaign bus.
Rowdy Smith, who brought his sons to the St. Louis Rams game on Sunday, said that President Obama's "not a leader" and is hurting the energy industry. He's shown here walking in front of the Americans for Prosperity campaign bus. Alan Greenblatt/NPR
There's nothing like a ready-made crowd to help a group get its message out. That's why a conservative political organization set up shop Sunday outside the St. Louis Rams-Washington Redskins NFL football game.
Why mix politics and football?
"People are here," explained Patrick Werner, Missouri state director for Americans for Prosperity.
Football fans are used to encountering promotional tents for sports-talk radio stations and brands of beer and mixed nuts on their way to the game. Not so many of them expect to discuss politics as part of the pregame festivities.
But Werner and his staff managed to attract attention from a large number of people who were willing to give up personal information such as email addresses in return for a free green T-shirt.
Americans for Prosperity is largely known for running multimillion-dollar ad campaigns in support of conservative causes. The group spent some $25 million airing ads critical of President Obama last month in 11 states.
Patrick Werner, Missouri state director for Americans for Prosperity, outside the St. Louis Rams-Washington Redskins football game Sunday in St. Louis.
Patrick Werner, Missouri state director for Americans for Prosperity, outside the St. Louis Rams-Washington Redskins football game Sunday in St. Louis. Alan Greenblatt/NPR
But Americans for Prosperity is also trying a retail approach. The group is currently on a tour of more than 350 stops in 16 states, seeking to approach and energize citizens individually to turn out to vote.
AFP parked a big, green bus in a lot directly catty-corner to the Edward Jones Dome in downtown St. Louis, emblazoned with a profile of the president and his infamous, if decontextualized, quote about business: "You didn't build that."
Julie O'Keefe, a St. Louis attorney, is embarrassed when her sons yell, "I hate Obama" as they pass the bus. "We didn't teach them to say that," she said.
But she doesn't disagree with them. "[Obama is] lying when he says [Mitt] Romney is going to raise taxes on the middle class," O'Keefe said. "That's total class warfare."
Like a number of passersby, O'Keefe said she had never heard of Americans for Prosperity until their tour pulled into St. Louis this weekend. The group is largely funded by Charles and David Koch, brother billionaire oil men from Kansas who have become bugaboos for liberals thanks to their generous support of conservative organizations such as AFP.
More people stopping by the bus, in fact, seem to have heard of the Kochs than Americans for Prosperity itself. Nevertheless, the group's message resonates. A number of people who disdain President Obama tick off as their reasons several of the same issues the group has bannered across its bus, including the $16 trillion national debt and persistently high unemployment.
St. Louis gave Obama 84 percent of its vote in 2008, but there are plenty of more conservative voters in surrounding counties in Missouri and across the Mississippi River in Illinois.
Rowdy Smith drove north about 25 miles from Barnhardt, Mo., to bring his family, all wearing Rams jerseys, to the game.
"Obama's a mess, not a leader," said Smith, who works for a coal company. "Hopefully, Obama loses, but the liberal mainstream media will do their best to keep him in there because he's their candidate."
But many of those who opposed Obama didn't seem fired up about Republican Mitt Romney. "He's what we've got," as one voter said. Few seemed interested in signing up to do work for AFP or the campaign. "We're gonna vote and everybody's going to know how," said St. Louis resident Maria Clements, but she wasn't planning to do more than that.
Emily Pindell, who lives in Edwardsville, Ill., was enjoying beers and barbecue beside her car with her husband before the game. She kept standing up from her folding chair, offering to take pictures of people in front of the AFP bus.
It was rare for anyone to beg off because they were Obama supporters.
Jim Engle, a construction sales director in St. Louis, didn't want to pose for any pictures, but he took a few shots of the bus anyway, saying he's going to send them to friends who aren't fans of Obama, either.
"The bus caught my eye," he said. "That's pretty creative."