A Burlington bakery was transformed into a post-debate spin room Wednesday afternoon, when Sen. Patrick Leahy dropped by for a round of Romney bashing.
Vermont's senior senator called a press conference at August First Bakery and Cafe on South Champlain Street to offer his own postmortem on Tuesday night's presidential debate. Leahy was joined by bakery owners Jodi Whalen and Phil Merrick, who said their small business has thrived during the Obama presidency.
"We opened our bakery in 2009 with a staff of five and I'm happy to report that today we now employ 23 people, many of them full-time," Whalen said.
Leahy said the Obama that showed up to last night's debate was "the Barack Obama that we know." He was clear, concise direct and honest, the senator said. Romney, Leahy said, only gave "slogans, tested catch phrases and no substance."
He wasn't so enamored of the president's first debate performance. "This was not the Barack Obama I know so well. And it worried me that ... I think he was, he saw some things that were patently untrue being said by former governor Romney."
When it came time for questions, Burlington Free Press reporter Sam Hemingway noted that, by many economic measures, America isn't doing so well, and that's what has made this a close race. Asked where he thinks this race stands today, Leahy dismissed the premise of Hemingway's question.
"I don't call it a close race," Leahy said. "Millions of jobs have been created, the real estate market is coming back, there's more optimism in this county, the stock market is at a high that hasn't been seen for years. All of these indications are for the better."
Actually, it is a close race. New polls out Wednesday have Romney up by four points — and hitting 50 percent for the first time — while the New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog put Obama's chance of winning at 64.8 percent.
"When I think of polls, I think of the first time I ran for office," Leahy reminisced. "And I saved these two headlines. One is a big headline, big type across the front page that says, 'Poll dooms Leahy.' The next headline was five days later, 'Leahy wins Senate seat.' I am confident that President Obama wins."
As Leahy was speaking, a stray pigeon wandered into the bakery and strutted by the podium where he was standing, eliciting laughs from young Democratic aides but apparently going unnoticed by the senior senator.
Whalen (pictured next to Leahy) credited Obama, Leahy and other Democrats for helping her launch a successful business. She said August First secured a federal Small Business Administration loan at a time when other lenders had put a freeze on loans. That allowed the couple to open the bakery and, eventually, a second store — Stack's Sandwiches, in Burlington, which employs seven people.
Merrick (pictured next to Whalen) added that the business' payroll taxes have actually gone down under Obama. Asked what impact Romney's tax plan would have on his business, Merrick replied, "I don't know. I haven't found anything I believe because he lies so much. His math is so horrible, you can't trust anything he says."
Merrick added that Romney's pledge during the debate to cut taxes on capital gains and inheritences for people earning under $250,000 won't help his family or business. "I'm not going to inherit anything from my father, who was an elementary school principal.
"It's class war," Merrick said, before peeling off to get his picture taken with the senator. "Romney is involved in a class war."