ALTOONA, Pa. — While Democrats increasingly worry about winning ugly, Barack Obama was losing gracefully at a bowling lane in this central Pennsylvania city. He had better luck Sunday during a visit to a dairy farm, winning over a month-old calf with a fresh bottle of milk.
"My economic plan is better than my bowling," Obama told fellow bowlers Saturday evening at the Pleasant Valley Recreation Center.
"It has to be," a man called out.
Obama dropped by the bowling lanes as part of his new emphasis on low-key, face-to-face campaigning during a six-day bus tour through the state. So for two days, he scaled back the big, raucous rallies that have been his calling card.
The Illinois senator said he wanted to "take time for the retail politics that I enjoy and think helps people know me better. ... We'll probably save the rallies toward the end of the campaign."
Sunday morning, Obama visited a dairy farm run by Penn State, where he fed a bottle of milk to a slurping, gulping calf.
Obama laughed as the calf tugged hard on the nipple of the bottle, eventually draining it.
A large crowd later expected later Sunday for a campaign rally at Penn State.
The night before, it was Obama Bowl-a-Rama.
And it was clear from the start of the evening that Obama was way out of his league, certainly any bowling league.
Pennsylvania's April 22 primary is the next contest between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton in their fight for the Democratic presidential nomination. Pennsylvania is the biggest single delegate prize remaining in the Democratic primaries.
Some Democrats worry the hard-fought, drawn-out race is already hurting the party's chances to win in November and Republicans hope they're right.
"I think it's a good competition, but I think the Democratic party is going to be blown apart," said Mark Irvin, a 49-year-old Republican who was bowling at the same time as Obama.
Obama let everyone know he hadn't bowled since Jimmy Carter was president.
He shared a lane with Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr., who endorsed him Friday, and local homemaker Roxanne Hart. As the game went on, several small children bowled with Obama as well.
Obama and Casey had a private game of basketball earlier in the day, but they saved their F-game for the public at the bowling lanes.
On his first warm-up ball, Casey rolled a gutter ball. Obama's first ball flew well off his hand but also ended up in the gutter. On his second try, he knocked down four pins.
About five lanes over, a young man in a T-shirt that said "Beer Hunter" fell on his backside while bowling and still recorded a strike.
The crowd of regulars pressed in to take pictures, get autographs and rib him on his poor skills.
Obama did improve, nearly getting a strike in one frame, and in the seventh, picking up a spare, giving him a score of 37. Casey had a score of 71 after getting a strike, and Hart, with one less frame, racked up a score of 82.
"I was terrible," Obama laughed as he shook hands with a crowd that had gathered outside the building once word spread he was there.
Asked about his game, Hart sounded like a politician, saying: "He has potential."