St. Croix woman who met Obama felt like she had won the lottery


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ST. THOMAS - The Saturday after President Barack Obama's first debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, Christiansted resident Marise James was reading the news online and saw a link for a fundraiser for the president.

"I was thinking about the debate that had just happened, and I thought I needed to give President Obama a little help," James said.

James said she had never donated to Obama's campaign before, but the link included a section specifically for donors from the Virgin Islands. James filled out the forms, taking note of the $19.17 increments commemorating the year when the territory became part of the United States.

"I donated, and that was the end of it for me," James said.

But the following Monday, James' husband picked up a phone call from Marjorie Roberts, an attorney who is the Virgin Islands finance chairwoman of the Obama Victory Fund 2012.

James, who is also an attorney, said she knew Roberts from working with her, but she did not realize that by donating to Obama's campaign she had also entered a lottery to meet the president.

"I said, 'What lottery?' " James said. "But of course I said yes to everything. I'm not stupid."

Roberts told James she had won a $5,000 ticket to attend an Obama fundraiser in Miami and a chance to get her picture taken with the president.

"When she told me about the photo op, that's when I went crazy," James said. "Then I felt like I had really won the lottery."

James said she had five or six photographs taken with the president during the Oct. 11 fundraiser. Her favorite shows them both sharing a laugh.

Leading up to the shot, James said she was telling the president about her three children, who live on the mainland and are old enough to vote.

"So I told him he had three votes from my household, but as a Virgin Islander, I can't vote for him," James said.

Then she told Obama about a line that she uses on her son, riffing on the fact that her son, Obama and President Bill Clinton were all born in the month of August.

"I tell my son there's hope for him, too," James said.

James said the meeting was particularly poignant for her because she is an attorney for the National Guard, so she was meeting both her president and her commander-in-chief. James said the president thanked her for her military service. She described Obama as "very charming, gracious, upbeat and energetic."

Though James had not donated to Obama's campaign before, she is no newcomer to politics. She said she ran for the V.I. Senate in 1988 and lost - "That was a good thing," she said - and later served a year as the Democratic National Committeewoman in 1996 before taking a job in Gov. Roy Schneider's administration.

When asked whether she gave the president any advice to improve his performance between the first and second presidential debates, James said any help she offered was non-verbal.

"A little bit of V.I. sunshine," she said.

- Contact Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email lmattei@dailynews.vi.

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