SPIRIT LAKE, IOWA -- A well-dressed teenager stood up during a typical Obama town hall meeting and asked a question on the current payroll tax cap. And then the buzz began.
The question? "Right now as I understand it the tax limit is $97,000 which means, like, the most anybody can pay on taxes is what they would pay on $97,000 yet we have people like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates that are making billions upon billions of dollars and they're still paying taxes on $97,000 dollars. Is there any way we can make them pay taxes on what they are making and lower the taxes on the middle class?"
Senator Obama answered, "yes" and went on to talk about Social Security and the need to lift the payroll cap. Obama ended by saying, "good question."
The student who asked the question was standing in the press section, near the audience. Obama pointed to the student but it was not clear if he could tell where he was standing. After the event, the press swarmed to the student asking him who he worked for and why he was asking about taxes, a campaign talking point from an event earlier that day. The student said that he was a high school newspaper reporter and he was interested in the subject. No one told him to ask the question. The reporter buzz continued.
CBS News later spoke to the student via telephone later in the evening. The student, Jim Mohler, a senior at a local high school, said he was writing a story for the local Estherville Daily newspaper. The newspaper editor knew Mohler and asked him to write about the Obama event from a youth perspective. The story was intended to be a supplement to a staff reporter's overall news story.
Glen Caron, the publisher of the Estherville paper, called Mohler a "smart kid" and thought it would be interesting to get a youth perspective. Caron said that neither he nor anyone from his newspaper told Mohler what to ask Obama.
Mohler said he planned to attend the Obama event because his mother, a campaign volunteer, heard about it from another supporter. Mohler's mother watched a previous Obama event online and discussed the issue of taxes with her son. "We're a middle-class family," Mohler told me. He said he simply asked Obama a question on taxes because of his family's concern over the issue. "I had a list of other questions," Mohler said. Did anyone else approach him to ask a question? "No," Mohler said, "I was wondering about taxes as a person in the middle class."
Mohler also said that he volunteers for the campaign and is an Obama supporter. This will be the first time that he is caucusing.
Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod told reporters that it is not typical to have volunteers ask questions during town hall meetings. "With all the sensitivity there's been in this campaign," Axelrod said, "it may not have been the first choice, but you know the kid raised his hand and Obama didn't know and no one knew he was going to do that."
After the event, Mohler shook hands with the Senator and immediately went back to his newspaper. Caron said Mohler was "all excited" because of the attention.