Florida Obama devotee to get backstage time with her man

Miami HeraldAugust 27, 2008 

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Long before Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, before he became a pop cultural superstar, before he ever whispered his bid for the White House, there was Marsha Shearer on the phone with her son predicting history.

Four years ago, immeasurable in political time, Shearer saw the possibilities of a man who now promises to mend a divided nation.

''I had read this article about Obama when he was running for the Illinois Senate. I was impressed and I knew there was something special about him,'' says Shearer, a retired assistant principal living in Central Florida. "I told my son back then that Obama would be the first African-American president.''

Now, this believer and grandmother of six is among the 10 people selected by the Obama campaign in a lottery to join him on stage Thursday at the Democratic National Convention in Denver before he delivers the acceptance speech.

''With Marsha Shearer, you are talking about someone who has really supported Obama in what is clearly an uphill battle where she lives,'' says Laura McGinnis, an Obama campaign press secretary for the Orlando region. "She is what we call a super volunteer.''

Shearer, who lives in The Villages, a traditionally Republican retirement complex north of Orlando, believes Obama is right for the job. ''He represents something above and beyond,'' she says. "I haven't felt so energized since [1968 presidential candidate Eugene] McCarthy trying to end the Vietnam War.''

The 10 contributors, everyday people from key states critical to an Obama victory, were selected for ''Backstage with Barack.'' The group, including a teacher, a law student and a disabled vet, were flown to the convention and are scheduled to privately meet the candidate.

''Our politicians have made so many promises and not followed through,'' Shearer said. "I want to tell Obama that people want someone who can be accountable every year, not every four years.''

Shearer, a lively woman given to quoting Mark Twain, began seriously stumping for Obama in February, buoyed mostly by his pledge to end the war in Iraq. Before long, her support of Obama -- his platform, his values -- had broadened from $20 to $100 contributions into much more: a faithful supporter spending her retirement days registering voters, persuading voters, rallying voters.

''I remember thinking I am going to go with the person who I think can really bring this country together,'' says Shearer, who retired to Florida seven years ago. "Obama has an appeal that is based on smartness, common sense and logic. ''

Shearer is a registered Democrat but says Obama's position on the country's most pressing issues -- the unsteady economy, gas pricing, healthcare -- are what drew her to his candidacy.

''I really do try to look past the party,'' says Shearer, the mother of three grown sons. "If Obama suddenly changed his affiliation but kept all his values and principles in response to the issues, but called himself a Republican, then I would pull the Republican lever.''

Shearer's first foray into politics came as a University of Wisconsin student more than 50 years ago.

''I became active in the 1960s during the Vietnam era and was a huge supporter of Eugene McCarthy,'' says Shearer. "It was during that time that I learned the power of protest and that one person can really make a difference.''

Shearer began making online contributions in December. At the time, Obama was a long shot against New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

In February, Shearer and a friend drove 30 miles to meet with a group of Obama supporters. Four of the people at that first meeting, including Shearer, would later form The Villagers for Obama. Since then, the group has grown to 150 volunteers who hold rallies and fundraisers for the Obama campaign. They also host parties and run a phone bank in hopes of convincing undecided voters in this sprawling community of 70,000 to support Obama.

''I know this place is seen as a Republican stronghold but there are people out there that are not happy with how the last eight years has gone,'' she says. "Those people are open-minded enough to listen.''

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