DURHAM, N.C. – Reggie Love is not quite sure how he wound up as Senator Barack Obama’s shadow in the campaign trail.
But the former Duke football/basketball player is enjoying his experience as the so-called “body man” for one of the frontrunners for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States.
“The experiences I get by being with him in the campaign are fascinating,” Love said recently. “That experience should prepare me to go in a lot of different directions in life – in school, business, Wall Street ... I could possibly work in the White House.”
The latter possibility depends on the Illinois senator winning the 2008 Presidential election. That’s still a long way off and the competition for the Democratic nomination remains hotly contested.
That’s why Obama spends so much time on the road, meeting voters and trying to convince them that he’s a better presidential choice than rivals such as New York Senator Hillary Clinton and ex-North Carolina Senator John Edwards. And everywhere that Obama goes, Love is right there at his side, taking care of a wide variety of needs – from keeping his water bottle filled to helping the Senator stick to his workout schedule to clicking pictures of Obama with excited voters.
“He takes a layer of worry away from the candidate and the rest of the traveling staff and lets Barack focus on talking to voters,” the campaign’s communications director Robert Gibbs told the Chicago Tribune.
Love, who played wide receiver for the Duke football team and forward – and even center – for the Blue Devil basketball team, never planned on his current role. In his dreams, he’d spend this fall for playing for the Dallas Cowboys.
Love, a two-sport prep star from Charlotte, N.C., came to Duke in the summer of 2000 on a football scholarship. It was understood at the time that the powerfully built 6-4, 225-pound wide receiver would also join Mike Krzyzewski’s basketball team.
Surprisingly, Love made his first impact on the basketball court. He played little early, but when starting center Carlos Boozer was hurt in Duke’s next-to-last regular season game, Love suddenly became a key backup in the post. His brightest moment as a freshman came in the ACC Tournament title game in Atlanta, where he pulled down eight rebounds in 16 minutes and held his own defensively against UNC 7-footer Brendan Heywood.
Love earned an NCAA championship ring for his contribution to Duke’s 2001 title team, but after playing briefly in 2001-02, he elected to concentrate on football. As a senior in 2003, he was Duke’s top receiver, catching 27 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns as the Devils enjoyed their most successful season in this decade.
It turned out that Love’s Duke connection was not quite over.
He signed with the Green Bay Packers and after he was cut, hooked up with the Dallas Cowboys – lasting until that team’s final cut in late August, 2004. At that point, Love had a conversation with Blue Devil assistant coach Johnny Dawkins, who realized that Love had another season of basketball eligibility – and Duke had a need for some frontcourt depth.
Love returned to school and became a valuable backup for a short-handed Duke team in 2004-05, averaging just over 10 minutes a game. His brightest moment probably came in the ACC Tournament opener against Virginia, when he pulled down eight rebounds in nine minutes to help a sputtering Blue Devil team overcome the Cavs.
Two days later, Love had another ACC championship ring as Duke edged Georgia Tech in the title game – which just happened to be played in Washington, D.C., the site of Love’s future employment.
But the two-sport standout wanted to make one more bid for a career in professional sports. He spent the spring and summer of 2005 working out in Dallas, trying to convert himself into a linebacker.
“The front seven is a totally different world,” the lifelong wide receiver said. “[Former Duke teammate] Ryan Fowler was a big help.”
But not big enough. When Love once again failed to survive the final cut in Dallas, he decided it was time to get on with his life. He decided it was time to put his Duke degree to use.
“I was thinking of joining [the investment banking firm] of Goldman-Sachs,” Love explained. “They had a training program starting in June [of 2006]. Before that I was thinking of interning in D.C. – just for the experience. But while I was asking around, someone mentioned that there was an opening in Senator Obama’s office. I interviewed and they offered me a job.
“At first I said no because I was going to start at Goldman Sachs in June. But they said, ‘Try it for six months and if you don’t like it, leave.’”
That was January of 2006. It’s now 22 months later and Love has gone from an office staffer to a key man on the Senator’s campaign staff.
“I don’t actually know how that happened,” Love admits.
But Obama told the Chicago Tribune that the former Duke athlete is a good fit and a comfortable person to be around.
“Like me, I think he’s even-tempered,” Obama said to the newspaper in a recent interview. "He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s a good-hearted person, and people who meet him immediately warm up to him. His job, often times, is managing other people who want me here or want me there, or are making requests, or are wanting some phone call out of me. Having somebody who is a good people person is really important.”
And having a near-professional athlete to work out with has helped the Senator stay in shape.
“We go to the gym together,” Love explained. “He works out a lot. His schedule is pretty tight. When we’re in a town he doesn’t know, I’ll find a place and we’ll go over.”
Usually, Senator Obama, Love and Marvin Nicholson, another staffer who served as John Kerry’s “body man” during the 2004 campaign, go to the gym together. Senator Obama also likes basketball, so whenever possible, Love has tried to set up some pickup games.
“We have a long series of ‘horse’ ongoing,” Love said. “We were in New Hampshire recently and we set up a game against some firefighters.”
Love said Senator Obama is a fervent sports fan and they often have ESPN on in the campaign bus.
“He loves the White Sox and the Bears ... and he loves [the University of] Illinois,” Love said. “We’ve talked about Duke and we watched some games together last spring. He’s not a Duke-hater or anything. In fact, he said one of the best things about hiring me was getting to talk to Coach K.”
Actually, Love isn’t sure when his current boss and his former coach spoke – although he assumes Senator Obama called Krzyzewski for a reference. It might have been an interesting conversation, according to Love.
“To be honest, if Coach K and Senator Obama were to sit down and talk about the issues, well, they might not 100 percent agree, but they’d respect each other’s positions,” Love said. “I’m not saying Coach K would endorse him, but he’d respect him.”
Love, a political science and public policy major at Duke, admits that he’s very much in Senator Obama’s corner – even beyond the loyalty due his employer.
“The Senator and I are aligned politically,” he said. “We have some small discrepancies, but for the most part, we’re aligned.”
Love’s duties on the campaign trail have prevented him from following Duke’s fortunes as closely as he liked. He did make it back last spring for Duke’s Football Summit and remains vitally interested in the team’s future.
“I’m a little disappointed at how things have gone,” he said. “I think there should be a level of accountability at some point.”
Love was very anxious to see the Blue Devil football team take on Notre Dame, but the nationally televised game was played on a busy day that started with several campaign events in the Houston and Austin areas of Texas, followed by a flight to Iowa.
Love does his best to catch Duke basketball when it fits into his schedule. He was hoping that he and Senator Obama would be able to watch the Duke-Illinois game from Maui in November.
“That’s a late game,” he said, speaking a few days before the match-up. “That might be a possibility.”
Life is all about possibilities for Reggie Love these days.