Skip to main content

The Backstory: How Obama got into the Clubb house

By Suzanne Malveaux, CNN White House Correspondent
President Obama held an event Wednesday in Sandy and Jeff Clubb's backyard in Des Moines, Iowa.
President Obama held an event Wednesday in Sandy and Jeff Clubb's backyard in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Sandy and Jeff Clubb hosted Obama's economic event in their backyard Wednesday
  • Clubbs say they are baffled about how they even got on the list to be considered
  • "It's like winning the lottery," Jeff says, "but without even buying a ticket"
  • Sandy Clubb said she was told, "It all came down to your backyard"

Des Moines, Iowa (CNN) -- You ever wonder how families are selected to host President Obama's personal visits? It might all come down to your backyard.

Sandy and Jeff Clubb, a university athletic director and a local private school teacher, were chosen to host the president in Des Moines, Iowa, as part of the White House's series of informal discussions on the economy leading up to the midterm elections.

I met the Clubbs in their driveway at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. It was still dark outside. I was among a small group of reporters in the first wave to arrive before the president's entourage.

Sandy Clubb was excited to see her assistant from the university arrive with pastries in hand for her special guests.

I asked Sandy how all this had come about.

She said a week ago, they had been informed that they were being considered as "one of eight families the White House was looking at to possibly host the president's visit to Des Moines." At 5:15 Thursday evening, White House advance staffer Mike Ruemmler called to say the Clubbs had been chosen.

Sandy Clubb said 45 minutes later, about a dozen local and White House officials arrived at their home, including the Secret Service, to brief their family and scout out the backyard.

Video: How health care bill impacts you
Video: Obama talks economy
Video: Obama: Bush tax cuts cause deficit

"It's like winning the lottery," Jeff Clubb said, "but without even buying a ticket."

The couple say they are baffled about how they even made the list to be considered. They are both registered Democrats who voted for Obama, but neither of them campaigned or raised money for the candidate. Jeff Clubb, a former Arizona resident, says he voted for John McCain for senator when he lived there.

The White House often looks for people who have a good life story and have benefited from the administration's policies. The Clubbs fit the bill, as middle-class parents of two young children, Tristan 11, and Skyelar 9. Jeff is a former firefighter who now teaches social studies and religion at Holy Trinity Catholic School. Sandy is the athletic director at Drake University.

Jeff says he was told the White House wanted to hold the event in Beaverdale, a sprawling suburb of Des Moines, because of its beautiful big oak trees, which Obama admired during the event.

"This is a lovely neighborhood. I love these big trees," the president said.

Sandy Clubb said she was told, "It all came down to your backyard."

Indeed the Clubbs do have a beautiful acre full of oaks, elms, maples, evergreens and pines.

After their home was selected, the Clubbs frantically prepared for the president.

Jeff moved an old car he was working on out of the garage to make room for the White House press corps to set up shop. The morning of the event, Sandy was looking for a place to hide Mouse, their cat. She settled on her daughter's bedroom.

"I didn't want it running through the president's legs" Sandy said. Their other feline, Oreo, had been boarded earlier in the week.

The Clubbs set out bananas, apples, coffee and orange juice for their guests. They say they're not getting paid for anything.

Jeff said one of the biggest challenges was finding and filling the 85 seats needed for the event. He said he was told the family could invite "anyone they wanted; neighbors, friends, of any political affiliation." Jeff's parents and sister were already planning to come into town Friday for their family reunion, so they decided to move their arrival up three days so they could meet the president.

Jeff and Sandy then invited their neighbors on the condition they bring their own chairs. All week, the Clubbs had accepted a variety of lawn chairs, which made up the motley assortment of wood, iron and plastic furniture sprawled over the backyard. Jeff says one of his neighbors, who's a Republican, brought over his own chair.

"He's not coming to the event, but he said, 'This is the president of the United States -- of course I want my chair there. I want to be represented.' "