In Okla. County, Muted Reaction To Obama

Coalgate, Okla., is in a county with 84 percent Democratic registration. But 74 percent of voters in the county picked John McCain over Barack Obama. Patrons in Esther's Kountry Grill in Coalgate weigh in on what they fear and hope about life under an Obama administration.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And now to Oklahoma, NPR's Howard Berkes spent the day at Esther's Kountry Grill in Coal County, Oklahoma. Seventy-four percent of the voters in that county cast ballots for Republican John McCain. And Howard, clearly not Barack Obama country where you are. Did people at Esther's watch the inauguration today?

HOWARD BERKES: Well, you know, there were two big flat screen TVs going all day here, and some people were glued to the inauguration coverage, but others didn't pay any attention. One man was placing an order for parts on a cell phone, another was focused on his chicken-fried steak and he told me he didn't vote for Barack Obama, he didn't like his liberalism, especially on issues like abortion, gun control, gay marriage. And he didn't want to hear what the new president had to say. But Barbara Elkins, the owner of Esther's, she told me through tears that this is a historic day. She probably wouldn't have been allowed to serve a black man in a restaurant a few decades ago, she said. But now, a black man is president.

BLOCK: Sounds much like what Barack Obama said today in his inaugural address, that his father, less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant here in Washington. Howard, what are people there, in Oklahoma, saying about the transition and how it might affect their lives?

BERKES: Some people are worried that a liberal Democratic president will cost them more money, will take positions on social issues that they feel immorally unacceptable. The economy here has been relatively good. There's a boom in natural gas drilling, but there's concern that that boom might wane. I spoke with postmaster Ken Braddock, who was here eating this morning, and he told me that he's worried that President Obama will be weak on national security, in protecting the nation from terrorists. But even he and almost everybody else I spoke with, they were willing to give the new president a chance. Wanda Utterback is the local newspaper editor here, and she said that regardless of how people here voted, Mr. Obama is still the president. It's like a new beginning, a turnaround in the country, she said, and then she added hopefully, hopefully.

BLOCK: OK, Howard, thanks so much.

BERKES: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Howard Berkes speaking with us from Esther's Kountry Grill in Coalgate, Oklahoma.

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