Obsitnik’s sandwich tour comes to town

For politicians, heading to the local diner for a chance to shake hands and share a cup of coffee with the voters is as time-honored a tradition as kissing babies. And it’s quickly becoming a specialty for congressional candidate Steve Obsitnik.

The Republican candidate for the 4th District brought his “Sandwich Tour” to Greenwich on Monday, meeting for lunch with prospective voters at the Glory Days Diner on West Putnam Avenue. Over sandwiches and sodas, Mr. Obsitnik talked with potential voters about subjects as varied as the economy, fuel sources in Fairfield County and college costs for young students and then went around the restaurant introducing himself and talking about his candidacy.

The trip, right in the heart of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes’s (D-4th District) hometown, is part of a districtwide tour by Mr. Obsitnik that began last fall. Since October, he estimated, he has visited close to 70 restaurants and delis in the 4th District. He said the idea originated with his wife, Suzanne.

“My wife knows how much I love sandwiches and that I’m not much of a dinner person,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “I’d much rather go out to get a sandwich than go to a fund-raiser at some fancy restaurant. She said, ‘You love sandwiches and everyone has to have lunch, so why don’t you go on a sandwich tour?’ That’s what we’ve been doing. Sometimes they’re formally set up and sometimes we just pull up and go in and talk to the owner and talk to the customers about the issues. It brings some fun to the process and you get to meet a lot of interesting people.”

According to Mr. Obsitnik, the typical attendance varies at these events. The Greenwich stop brought out only three people, but one in Bridgeport brought close to 20. He said there are usually close to eight people, depending on how much advance promotion his campaign does, and he likes the small crowds because it allows for a more personal connection with people.

Mr. Obsitnik said that soon his campaign website would have a map set up of all the places he’s been and publicizing where he’ll be going next. The campaign cooled this effort down a little during the run-up to the state Republican convention, but now with the party’s nomination in hand, it has once again been revved up. He said that this has given him a great chance to talk with the voters.

“People are concerned,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “They’re concerned about where their future opportunities are. They’re worried about jobs and whether they’ll be able to afford to send their kids to school. We’ve seen people from all walks of life on the sandwich tour. It’s a quiet moment to listen to them and hear what they care about. Then you can add up all those small conversations because that’s what representation is. People open up at events like this, and without the sandwich tour I don’t think I would have that opportunity. I want to meet the voters and understand their needs, and this is something that’s really my style. I’m much more of a sandwich person than a foie gras person. The more casual you make it, the more information you’re going to get.”

Mr. Obsitnik compared it to the value a candidate gets from knocking on voters’ doors and talking with them one on one rather than at a large fund-raiser where you address a whole group of people. He said those big events are more manufactured than he likes and at events like these he can really find out what’s on the minds of people in the moment on topics like the economy and the job market and the pressure they feel when they see high prices at the gas station and the grocery store.

“People see a real lack of leadership right now,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “They feel like it’s a rudderless ship right now, and they’re upset about that. They want to know why people are being so partisan in Washington. They ask, ‘Why are they fighting for their self-interest and not my self-interest?’ That’s the first thing on their minds.”

Mr. Obsitnik spent a lot of time at this week’s Greenwich lunch stop talking with Austin Clark, a town resident and member of the Greenwich Republican Town Committee. Mr. Clark discussed First Selectman Peter Tesei’s landslide re-election last November and his success in getting independent and unaffiliated voters, something Mr. Obsitnik said he would look to emulate.

“This election is going to come down to who do you trust,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “There’s going to be a lot of issues before the new Congress in the next year to year and a half. We’re going to do tax reform. We’re going to have to talk Medicare and Medicaid and our national defense. At the end of the day, voters are going to have to ask who do you trust to negotiate on their behalf and represent their interests. This is an election, but it’s also for the honor of being able to represent you. Winning is important, but I want the people of this district, especially the independents and also Democrats, to know that I want to represent them and have the qualifications to do so.”

One of the attendees at Monday’s lunch was state Sen. L. Scott Frantz. A veteran of two campaigns of his own in a district that includes Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan, Mr. Frantz said he’s impressed by what he’s seen so far from Mr. Obsitnik, who is running his first race for political office.

“I’ve found him to be a very effective campaigner,” Mr. Frantz told the Post. “He’s been at this for quite some time now, and the energy level is there and the knowledge level is there, along with the personal appeal. I think it’s a winning combination.”

Mr. Frantz spoke a bit with Mr. Obsitnik at the lunch about the current mood of the voters but said afterward that he didn’t think he needed to offer any new advice to the candidate.

“The only advice I would give him, and I think he gets this already, is that it’s better to keep the issues simple,” Mr. Frantz said. “For example, health care is such a complex new law in place that if you go down the road of trying to explain it all, it gets very complicated for anyone not familiar with it to grasp all the different concepts. From [the Republican] point of view, it’s a bill that had wonderful intentions, but is simply unaffordable, and I believe it will be devastating to the economy in both jobs and opportunities.”

The sandwich tour will be continuing throughout the campaign, something Mr. Obsitnik is very happy about.

“I haven’t had this much fun in years,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “I’ve learned so much from doing this and I can’t wait to keep it going.”

 

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