STEVE INSKEEP, host:
When Barack Obama chose a running mate, it was expected that Joe Biden would help with exactly the kind of voters we will meet next. Biden is Catholic, and he has roots in Pennsylvania, a state where white, ethnic, largely Catholic voters play a big role. But John McCain is making his own bid for the same voters, and the fight is intense in the former textile and mining communities around Wilkes-Barre. NPR's David Greene begins on a Pennsylvania dance floor.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Singer: Crank up the music, the band has begun...
DAVID GREENE: It was Oktoberfest weekend in Wilkes-Barre. The polka dancing, pirogues, and kielbasa all capture the culture of an area where European immigrants once came for jobs. But the festival's not the only thing people are thinking about. John Simchick's celebrating his 55th birthday.
Mr. JOHN SIMCHICK: And seeing my 401(k) going down the tubes, I'm thinking I'm going to have to work more years than I anticipated.
GREENE: He wants a president who can end the financial mess. Simchick's a Republican who did think about Barack Obama.
Mr. SIMCHICK: When I initially seen him on the campaign trail against Hillary, I was kind of at that point in time probably rooting for Obama, but since I've changed my mind.
GREENE: He says he's come to appreciate McCain's track record.
Mr. SIMCHICK: He's fought his own Republicans, as well as the Democrats. I think he' a maverick.
GREENE: Around here, political opinions can be as unpredictable as the music. I didn't expect the band playing polka to switch to Jimmy Buffett.
(Soundbite of song "Margaritaville")
Unidentified Singer: Wasting away again in Margaritaville.
GREENE: And I didn't expect a Democrat like Roseann Smith to say...
Ms. ROSEANN SMITH: I'm voting for McCain. Yes.
GREENE: She says it has a lot to do with Iraq.
Ms. SMITH: I like the fact that he doesn't want to pull out of the war, right? Because we're there. I mean, you can't go and pull out now, because everything that's done will be undone, because now all the insurgents will come back in.
GREENE: Roseann recently lost her husband. He worked two jobs to support the family. Roseann sees John McCain as the candidate who believes in that kind of self-reliance.
Ms. SMITH: Obama wants to, as far as I am concerned, put all this money out for all these programs. He's going to break us.
GREENE: Still, she's not done thinking about this.
Ms. SMITH: You kind of pick the person that you kind of have a feel for, and I kind of have a feel for McCain. And who knows. And I may even change my mind. That's my prerogative. I'm a woman.
GREENE: A few miles away, things are quieter in a town where the abandoned coal processing plant towers over Main Street.
Mr. CARMEN CESARI (Proprietor, Pocono Mountain Leather): This is Pocono Mountain Leather in Ashley, Pennsylvania.
(Soundbite of dog bark)
Mr. CESARI: That's Tasi(ph). That's protector of the leather right there.
GREENE: The owner here is Carmen Cesari, a man who's never stuck with any one political party. These days he's shopping for a reason to support someone. As for Obama...
Mr. CESARI: He sounds too good to be true. He scares you. He scares me. It's just it's - he's got the right answer for everything.
GREENE: So he's considering McCain, but he's got doubts there, too.
Mr. CESARI: McCain just seems like the traditional Republican that is going to do everything that the Republicans have done for years, and no change will be involved.
GREENE: If you ended up voting for McCain, what do you think your explanation would be the next day? This is why I decided on John McCain.
(Soundbite of silence)
Mr. CESARI: I'm lost on that one right now.
GREENE: Next stop, Kelsey's Bar, where 67-year-old Lois McManus is eating lunch. She's also voted for both parties over the years. She describes Obama this way.
Ms. LOIS MCMANUS: A keen intellect. Very, very smart. Must have a phenomenally high IQ.
GREENE: Lois grew up here attending a Slovak Catholic church. She doesn't believe in abortion.
Ms. MCMANUS: You see, that's such an overriding issue because of my faith. That's what that is.
GREENE: And that may be the issue that gets her behind John McCain.
Ms. MCMANUS: 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? Because that would be the only way to change things.
GREENE: But even that issue hasn't settled it for Lois.
Ms. MCMANUS: It's hard. I said I have to pray. I have to pray, God, give me a sign.
GREENE: You're not sure you're going to vote for him?
Ms. MCMANUS: No, I'm not. Would you believe that?
GREENE: After spending a few days in this part of Pennsylvania, I can. David Greene, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.