DAVENPORT, Iowa — Ross Murty likes business, but he doesn’t like President Obama.
And so the co-owner of the Village Corner Deli here agreed to cater Obama’s visit Wednesday — but not before donning a T-shirt blaring the message: “Government didn’t build my business. I did.”
It was a reference to a remark Obama made several weeks ago that his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, has seized upon to portray Obama as anti-business. Obama, referring to the help government provides to businesses by building roads and providing education and other services, said, “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that."
“No one from the government was there when we were sweating it, when we were building this business,” Murty said. Before him was a bank of chafing dishes filled with smoked beef brisket, pulled pork, vegetable parmesan bake and cheesy hash brown casserole provided to the White House press corps covering the president’s three-day swing across Iowa this week.
Murty, 45, a registered Republican, didn’t really have a choice with the catering job. His partner, Bret Dalton (a registered Democrat), accepted the work on Saturday while Murty was away in Chicago watching a Cubs game. Dalton volunteered for Vice President Biden’s presidential campaign in 1988, when he was a student at Iowa State University.
But that’s not why he got the contract.
“One of Obama’s lead people came into the deli Saturday morning,” Dalton said. “I didn’t even know it was for Obama until that night.”
When he found out, though, Dalton had some fun. He called up Murty, who was driving back from Chicago, and asked: “Guess who’s coming to town this week?”
“He was a little stunned,” Dalton recalled. But the two take their political disagreements in stride, and the conversation was all in good fun, both said.
“I would never say no to anybody for any reason,” Murty said. “My partner and I have different views in politics, but business is business.”
The White House performs background checks on contractors for security reasons, but it does not vet them for their political views. Also, the caterers are hired to provide food for the White House press corps, which pays for the food, even though the White House makes the arrangements.
The Obama campaign had no comment on Murty's T-shirt.
But the Romney campaign seized on the moment, circulating pictures that reporters had tweeted of Murty with his controversial T-shirt. “Mr. President, please stay another day!” the Romney campaign e-mail said.