Brian Blanchard remembers shaking Barack Obama's hand and thinking he was "a nice guy." But they worked on different projects, and their interactions were limited. "I suspect he wouldn't even remember me."
It was 1989, and the future Dane County district attorney and Democratic presidential frontrunner were both summer interns at the Chicago law firm of Sidley & Austin. That was where Obama met Michelle Robinson, his future wife, then an associate at the firm. And it was around this time that Obama, then a second-year law student, was named editor of the Harvard Law Review, the law school equivalent of winning the Heisman Trophy.
"It was clear that he was headed places," says Blanchard, who was among the throng that packed the Kohl Center last week to hear Obama, and among the voters who on Tuesday helped him win the Wisconsin primary. "He could have absolutely written his ticket in terms of income and prestige in the legal world." Thus Blanchard finds it "extremely impressive" that Obama instead opted for public service, as a community organizer and politician.
Bill Dixon agrees, saying Obama "turned down huge money at the big firms" to join the Chicago law firm of Miner, Barnhill and Galland in 1993 because he wanted to do civil rights work. A partner at the firm's Madison office, Dixon says his occasional contacts have made him an Obama booster: "I'm 100% behind him. He's just a rare guy. We knew it when he came to us."
Attorney Chuck Barnhill, who opened the Madison office, says people attracted to Obama's public persona would like his private one, because it's the same: "He's an articulate, committed person" with a great sense of humor. "If you met him, you would invariably like him. I can't believe there's anybody who would dislike him." (Clip and save for ironic review in late October.)
But Barnhill, who has hit the links with Obama on company outings, does reveal one weakness: "He's a very mediocre golfer."