President Barack Obama has never fared well on Election Day in the central Arkansas community of Vilonia, however residents expressed gratitude Wednesday when Obama toured the damage and spoke to those affected by last week's deadly tornado.
In the last presidential election, Obama lost the Faulkner County vote by a 2-1 margin against his Republican opponent Mitt Romney. And in 2008, Obama also lost the county's vote by a 3-2 margin against GOP presidential candidate John McCain.
Daniel Smith, 36, spoke with Obama while the president surveyed the devastation in the town's Park Meadows subdivision, where dozens of houses were destroyed by the EF4 tornado that killed 15 people. Smith, a father of four, was at the Vilonia High School's storm shelter with his family while the storm was ripping off sections of their house's roof. Others' homes were completely destroyed.
"He was very kind, very down to earth just like anybody else," Smith said about Obama. He allowed his oldest two sons, 9-year-old Gabriel Dority and 6-year-old Garrison Dority, to stay home from school on the chance they could see the president. "Little did I realize that they were going to meet the president. I told him thank you. I was very, very thankful he did that. Because I know it's something they'll remember forever."
Sandy Towles, 59, is a case manager for the Vilonia Disaster Recovery Alliance, an organization established after a tornado hit the town in 2011. Shortly after last week's tornado touched down, Towles and others started setting up a food checkpoint for first responders and emergency personnel. She has been there since Sunday night, leaving only for rest. She knew of a few residents who said that they were leaving town for Obama's visit, because they "wouldn't be a part of it."
"Some people are negative, and they're always going to be negative," she said, adding that they were leaving based on Obama's policies. "They have the right to do that."
Lory Meaders, 42, of Vilonia, checked her 9-year-old daughter Addy out of her elementary school so her daughter could catch a glimpse of the president.
"I can't say that I'm a supporter of President Obama, but I think it is an honor for him to come to our town and to help us in the way that he's helping us," she said. "I don't agree with his policies, but I think this is wonderful. He's doing a lot for our town."
Smith's son Garrison said he wasn't nervous meeting the president.
"He was really nice and all that stuff," Garrison said. "He's the president of the United States, and he's a part of everybody's family in the world."