Unpredictable Political Opinions In Northeast Pa.

Ashley was a productive coal mining area at the start of the 20th century. i i

hide captionAshley was a productive coal mining area at the start of the 20th century. Now, with the economic prospects of the town less certain, many votes are up for grabs.

David Gilkey/NPR
Ashley was a productive coal mining area at the start of the 20th century.

Ashley was a productive coal mining area at the start of the 20th century. Now, with the economic prospects of the town less certain, many votes are up for grabs.

David Gilkey/NPR
Carmen Cesari owns a leather shop in Ashley. i i

hide captionCarmen Cesari, who owns a leather shop in Ashley, has never stuck with any one political party. Speaking about Obama, Cesari says, "He sounds too good to be true." But he has doubts about McCain, too.

David Gilkey/NPR
Carmen Cesari owns a leather shop in Ashley.

Carmen Cesari, who owns a leather shop in Ashley, has never stuck with any one political party. Speaking about Obama, Cesari says, "He sounds too good to be true." But he has doubts about McCain, too.

David Gilkey/NPR
Lois McManus is a retired nurse in Ashley. i i

hide captionLois McManus is a retired nurse in Ashley. She's weighing social issues, like abortion, against economic issues and isn't sure whom she'll vote for. "It's hard," she says. "I have to pray. God, give me a sign."

David Gilkey/NPR
Lois McManus is a retired nurse in Ashley.

Lois McManus is a retired nurse in Ashley. She's weighing social issues, like abortion, against economic issues and isn't sure whom she'll vote for. "It's hard," she says. "I have to pray. God, give me a sign."

David Gilkey/NPR

In northeast Pennsylvania, the former textile and mining communities around Wilkes-Barre are home to scores of predominantly white, Catholic voters who are a target of both presidential campaigns. The fight to win them over is intense, and a lot of voters are still up for grabs.

On Oktoberfest weekend in Wilkes-Barre, the polka dancing, pierogies and kielbasa all capture the culture of an area where European immigrants once came for jobs. But the festival isn't the only thing people were thinking about.

"Seeing my 401(k) go down the tubes, I'm thinking I'm going to have to work more years than I anticipated," said John Simchick, who was celebrating his 55th birthday.

Simchick, a Republican, said he wants a president who can end the financial mess. He did think about voting for Barack Obama.

"Initially, seeing him on the campaign trail against Hillary, I was kind of ... rooting for Obama but since then have changed my mind," he said. He has come to appreciate McCain's track record.

"He's fought his own Republicans, as well as Democrats. I think he's a maverick," Simchick says.

Around here, political opinions can be as unpredictable as the music. The band playing polka music suddenly switched to Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville," and Democrat Roseann Smith said she's voting for McCain. It has a lot to do with Iraq, she said.

"I like the fact that he doesn't want to pull out of the war. We're there, right? You can't go pull out now, because everything that's done will be undone. All the insurgents will come back in," she said.

Smith's husband, who recently died, worked two jobs to support the family. She sees McCain as the candidate who believes in that kind of self-reliance.

"Obama wants to, as far as I'm concerned, put all this money out for all these programs. He's gonna break us," she said.

Still, she's not done thinking about this: "You kind of pick a person that you kind of have a feel for. And I kind of have a feel for McCain. And who knows, I may even change my mind. That's my prerogative — I'm a woman."

A few miles away, things were quieter in a town where the abandoned coal processing plant towers over Main Street.

At Pocono Mountain Leather in Ashley, Pa., owner Carmen Cesari has never stuck with any one political party. These days, he's shopping for a reason to support someone.

As for Obama, Cesari said, "He sounds too good to be true. He scares you. He scares me. He's got the right answer for everything."

So, Cesari is considering McCain — but he has doubts there, too: "McCain just seems like the traditional Republican that is going to do everything the Republicans have done for years, and no change will be involved."

At Kelsey's Bar, 67-year-old Lois McManus said she also has voted for both parties over the years. She described Obama as having "a keen intellect, very, very smart, must have a phenomenally high IQ."

McManus grew up nearby, attending a Slovak Catholic church. She said she doesn't believe in abortion.

"That's such an overriding issue because of my faith. That's what that is," she said. And that may be the issue that gets her behind McCain.

"All I know is that he is pro-life. Bush was that, too, but did he change anything? And to reverse Roe v. Wade through the Supreme Court, that whole process, how is that going to be accomplished? 'Cause that would be the only way to change things," McManus said.

But even that issue hasn't settled it for her. "It's hard. ... I have to pray. God, give me a sign."

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