Volume 94, No.5, September-October 2008

 

Inseparable from Obama

Left-hand man: Love keeps boss Barack Obama on task.
Left-hand man: Love keeps boss Barack Obama on task.
Doug Mills / The New York Times / Redux

After graduating from Duke, varsity basketball and football player Reggie Love spent the summer trying to make it with a team in the National Football League. But when he was cut from the Dallas Cowboys before the season started, he changed directions, heading instead to Washington, where he caught on, in 2006, as an aide to Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. The following February, when Obama announced his intention to run for president, Love '05 found himself in a new role, that of the candidate's body man. As Obama's closest personal aide, Love has since stayed by his side at all times. He travels with the senator, manages his schedule, makes sure he has his meals on time and the right clothes for any occasion, and generally anticipates any other need that might come up. The two even work out together—they've frequently been spotted playing pickup basketball. After getting a much-needed vacation over the July 4 weekend, Love took a few minutes during an airport layover to talk to Duke Magazine.

How common is it for you to get a long weekend off? That was the first of its kind. I even got to play some golf.

Who fills in for you when you're gone? Marvin Nicholson helps out. He was [Sen. John] Kerry's body guy. Now he's the trip director for the campaign.

How did you get this job? You know, I have no idea. I sort of fell into it. When I started working [for Obama], he was just a senator. The whole idea of being involved in a presidential campaign wasn't even a fleeting thought. When the campaign started, Pete Rouse, the chief of staff, and the head of scheduling and advance both said, "Go on the road. You'll have fun." So I went. Here I am.

How much did you know about Senator Obama before applying for the job in his office? I'd read his book. I thought that he was a fresh face. The only African-American senator in the United States. A guy I admired and respected a lot.

When you talk to him now, what do you call him? Either sir, Senator, or Barack. It depends on where we're at.

Was it hard to start calling him by his first name? No. He actually prefers it.

Can you briefly describe an average day on the campaign? Not briefly. The average day is, like, sixteen hours long.

How about a recent day? We get up, go get a workout in. Have breakfast, shower, then go off and do an event. On the way to an event, I try to make phone calls, return calls, sit in on conference calls.

We show up on a site. Some last-minute prep needs to get done. Marvin and I make sure the site is ready to go, that the teleprompter is set, the stage is ready. Obama will speak for twenty minutes to a half hour. While he's doing that, I make sure he's got lunch or dinner, de-pending on the time of day, when he's done.

I make sure that everyone is aware of the items that are on the schedule at each event. I make sure everyone knows whether we're on time, early, or late. While he's still speaking, I'll take five minutes to return any phone calls I've gotten, to check e-mail.

After the candidate speaks, usually he'll do thirty minutes to an hour of interviews. We'll go from there to the airport, fly to another city, and do something similar.

That sounds like a long day. Physically, it's not that bad. I can think of a lot of things that are a lot more demanding physically. Mentally, it can be pretty taxing. There's always something to do, whether it's a phone call, a conference call, trying to track down somebody's picture, responding to e-mails. Getting ready for the next day, getting briefings ready. There are not a lot of empty moments. There is not a lot of personal time.

But it's a lot easier now [as the general election campaign heats up]. We've got a bigger plane, more staff. We're all a little bit more seasoned and ready for it. Seventeen months of this is pretty good preparation.

What's been the most surprising thing about the job? A lot of different things have been very pleasant. One of the first things we participated in was a reenactment of the historic voting-rights march across the bridge in Selma, Alabama. Another evening we had a brief meeting with Jay-Z and Beyoncé. I ran into Bill Clinton at an airport before getting on the plane. There are weird things you never expect.

How about the most frustrating thing? We'll save that for later.

Okay, the most difficult thing? I've had to struggle in terms of trying to get together relationships outside of work, girlfriends or whatever. That's really tough. You don't have a lot of time. You don't have a lot of time to spend with a person, or to talk on the phone. But I don't know if that's the job so much. It's more like collateral damage.

One of the more unexpected things to come of this job has been the amount of attention I've gotten, ever since the New York Times article came out [in May].

I've read a lot of the articles about you. How long did it take you to get used to the idea that people would be interested in you, your role, and your story? I don't know if I'm used to it yet. It's still sort of weird.

I saw you even made People magazine's list of hottest bachelors this year. Another weird item.

Congratulations! I appreciate it.

You majored in political science and public policy studies at Duke. Do you ever have the opportunity to debate with Senator Obama or share policy ideas with him? We do discuss policies and politics. I don't necessarily think of it in terms of me giving him advice, but more along the lines of talking about things we see in the different cities and different cultures we campaign through. When you're on a campaign of this nature—he had a formidable opponent in a primary that lasted sixteen months, during which we campaigned in forty-six states—you see a lot and there's a lot to discuss.

So do you don't want to take credit for any of his policy ideas? Nope.

How has this experience changed your understanding of politics? It's much different in practice than it is on paper. I had no idea that a campaign could be so time consuming and such a big process.

Are you interested in pursuing a career in politics after the campaign is over? I don't think that I necessarily decided to come and work in D.C. because I wanted to work in politics. It's more or less a social issue for me. It's my support for the candidate.

But working on the campaign has made me more interested in the [daily workings of the political system]. You've got to keep up on a lot of the ins and outs, what's going on across the political spectrum. What is making news, what isn't making news. I definitely read more about politics than I ever did in college or before I started working for the senator.

What's something that most people don't know about Obama? Though he's left-handed, going for the basket, he likes to drive right.