FORT PIERCE, Fla. — If President Barack Obama was looking for a lift in Florida, he got one from Scott Van Duzer.
The 46-year-old, six-foot-three Republican gave Obama a bear hug, raising him off the ground as Obama marveled at the man’s strength — and enthusiasm.
Van Duzer owns the Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Italian Restaurant where Obama stopped on Sunday during a Florida bus swing. He also runs a foundation that helps collect blood for the ill; he has received White House commendations for his work.
As he entered, Obama admired Van Duzer’s biceps, saying “Look at these guns!”
Said Obama: “The guy’s just got a big heart, along with big pecs.”
Of his embrace, Van Duzer said: “I was overwhelmed when I saw him.”
He said Obama had his vote.
Pizza story owner who hugged Obama: ‘It’s been pretty crazy’
Palm Beach Post
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In less than 24 hours, Scott Van Duzer of Port St. Lucie, Fla., has gone from a local pizza store owner to a man wanted across the world after he bear-hugged President Barack Obama Sunday afternoon.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Van Duzer told The Palm Beach Post Monday afternoon in between television interviews. “I’ve never been caught up in a moment.”
Van Duzer, a native New Yorker, made headlines when he hugged Obama as the president visited Van Duzer’s Big Apple Pizza Sunday afternoon while on his campaign tour.
Contrary to some media reports that stated Van Duzer got the okay from Secret Service to hug the president, Van Duzer said that wasn’t the case.
Before the president “kicked open the door” as Van Duzer remembers it, the Secret Service went through the restaurant and removed anything that could possibly be used as a weapon, including knives and scissors. The 6-foot-3-inch, 260-pound Van Duzer said he never asked the Secret Service if he could put his arms around the president because he didn’t even know he was going to do it.
“I didn’t know I was going to hug the guy,” founder of the Van Duzer Foundation said. “It was something special that I’ll never forget.”
The hug, which lifted the president off the floor as he smiled, has attracted national media to the married father of three. It has even landed him a chance to be interviewed by Anderson Cooper, his favorite.
The registered Republican voted for Obama in 2008 and plans to vote for him this year again.
It’s his message of change and his genuine personality that Van Duzer likes most.
“I saw it first hand,” Van Duzer said of the president’s personality. “It didn’t feel like it was just another stop on his tour.”
Before continuing to his next stop, Obama spent almost $200 on a variation of pizza pies and left the waitresses with more than a 30 percent tip, Van Duzer said.