President Obama breezed through Boston Wednesday, in town less than three hours to help Democrats fortify US Representative Edward J. Markey’s campaign for US Senate.
But, first, the leader of the free world needed a burger.
En route to the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center after landing at Logan Airport, Obama stopped in at Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe, the venerated Columbus Avenue eatery. A jacketless Obama, sleeves rolled up, ordered a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, mustard, and french fries, to go, and left a $20 bill on the $8 tab, said Charlie’s staff.
From there, Obama was off to a Markey rally, where he exhorted Democrats to turn out in the June 25 special election to replace John F. Kerry. Markey is running against Republican nominee Gabriel E. Gomez, a private equity investor and former Navy SEAL.
“I need Ed Markey in the United States Senate,” he told the crowd at the Roxbury Crossing facility.
Still spooked by the memory of the 2010 special election when Scott P. Brown won the seat long held by Edward M. Kennedy, Democrats are campaigning vigorously in the final weeks of the Senate campaign. On Saturday, former president Bill Clinton is scheduled to stump for Markey in Worcester.
Markey, sweat beaded on his forehead, worked the crowd after Obama had left the arena Wednesday. The rally marked a pivot point for the campaign as it ramps up its get-out-the-vote effort, Markey told the Globe in a short interview.
“What the president does is he comes in as the guy that frames the final 13 days, so everyone’s energy ratchets up to another level,” Markey said.
A night earlier, at a Washington fund-raiser for Markey, Vice President Joe Biden warned that the 37-year congressman will not benefit from presidential tailwinds atop the ballot.
“Barack Obama’s not at the head of the ticket,” Biden said. “And that means those legions of African-Americans and Latinos are not automatically going to come out. No one has energized them like Barack Obama. But he’s not on the ticket. So don’t take this one for granted.”
Gomez spent the day campaigning with soldiers in Chelsea and high-tech workers in Waltham, but the president’s visit Wednesday commanded the campaign spotlight.
Gomez invited the president to campaign with him in Chelsea, the latest in a string of attempts to prove he is not a party-line Republican. He later accused Markey of marching in lockstep with Democrats.
“What Washington needs more than ever is not another hyperpartisan politician,” said Gomez campaign adviser Lenny Alcivar. “Washington needs a bipartisan problem-solver who’s not tied to the old ways of doing business and has the courage to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats to get things done.”
Gomez again took an opportunity to break with a national GOP figure by slamming US Representative Trent Franks, who on Wednesday said that “the incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.”
Gomez wasted little time before ripping the Arizona Republican.
“I think that he’s a moron and he proves that stupid has no specific political affiliation,” Gomez told ABC News. He added, “I have no idea what goes into the mind of a moron like that. . . . These kinds of comments only come from a moron, and they shouldn’t be tolerated one bit.”
Two polls released Monday showed Gomez within 7 percentage points of Markey, an uncomfortably close margin for many Democrats, but one they hope to build upon with a voter-turnout operation that propelled Patrick and US Senator Elizabeth Warren to victory.
Even as the Obama administration grapples with a spate of controversies that have rocked Washington, Markey’s campaign has steadfastly maintained that the Senate election stands as a referendum on Obama’s presidency.
Obama’s visit struck a decidedly different tone than his last visit to Boston, when he spoke during an interfaith service three days after the Boston Marathon bombings. He did not visit the Marathon bombing site on Boylston Street, despite stopping nearby for lunch.
At Charlie’s, where he arrived around noon accompanied by Markey, Governor Deval Patrick, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino, a chipper president hugged and greeted patrons in the hole-in-the-wall spot that has drawn other famous customers over the years, including Sammy Davis Jr., Nomar Garciaparra, and Al Gore.
“You guys need to turn out. I know it seems like there’s an election every other week, but this one’s important,” Obama told the crowded diner.
He made a point of talking up Markey to a woman in the restaurant. “Do you know Ed Markey?” he asked her before encouraging her to vote for the congressman.
It was not all politics for Obama at Charlie’s. With an impending trip to Miami Beach Wednesday night for a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser, the president wanted a bite to go.
“He wanted something to eat in the car,” said Chris Manjourides, who owns Charlie’s with three siblings. “He didn’t have time. He was starving.”
Ronny Alfaro, who cooked the presidential patty in the tiny kitchen, said security personnel stood by the grill and watched him prepare the meal.
“I was pretty nervous,” said Alfaro. “The guy who brought the order in was like, ‘This is for the president of the United States.’ . . . I just started cooking.”
While at the Reggie Lewis Center, Obama also met with family members of Sean A. Collier, the MIT officer police say was shot to death by the Marathon bombing suspects, a White House official said.