Pennsylvania County Considers Prejudices, Obama In the past few presidential elections, Fayette County, Penn., has voted Democratic. But Barack Obama faces challenges: Hillary Clinton won nearly 80 percent of the primary vote there, and a new poll shows rival John McCain has a 20-point lead among white male voters nationwide.
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Pennsylvania County Considers Prejudices, Obama

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Pennsylvania County Considers Prejudices, Obama

Pennsylvania County Considers Prejudices, Obama

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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. NPR's David Greene will be spending much of the next month talking with the voters in swing states. He begins this week in Pennsylvania, which has voted Democratic in recent presidential elections. Polls show Barack Obama leading there, but a new Time Magazine survey shows that among white male voters, John McCain holds a 20-point lead. David Greene visited Fayette County, an hour south of Pittsburgh. In the Democratic primary, voters there chose Hillary Clinton, and David talked with them about their views on Barack Obama.

DAVID GREENE: This is the area of Pennsylvania that once powered the steel industry. Coal was taken from the ground here and heated into fuel.

SAM WOOD: You couldn't see the stars at night. All you saw was red sky.

GREENE: Sam Wood is 84. He worked in those coal mines. They've since closed, and these days, Sam hangs out on a roadside selling ears of corns so sweet you could just dig in without cooking them.

WOOD: Alright now, take a taste.

GREENE: Wow, that's amazing. My chomping away gave Sam a chance to tell me about the election.

WOOD: Now, see, I remember the other Depression. I was only about eight years old, but I got a good memory. For the time, we always had a man for the time when this country was in bad shape. I don't see none now.

GREENE: He says he has thought about John McCain and isn't so sure.

WOOD: Now, I like his vice president. Not because she's good looking, but I think she's got a lot of common sense. She don't owe anybody anything in D.C.

GREENE: And Sam says Sarah Palin is really the difference for him. He is voting for the Republican ticket. Now, he's a registered Democrat. He just says Barack Obama hasn't impressed him much.

WOOD: Unidentified Woman #1: Yeah. Oh.

GREENE: Customers are pulling up in their cars for corn. Sam seems happy to pass me along to them.

WOOD: Grab him, buddy. Jump on him about the election.

GREENE: He's introduced me to Rich Miner, who says he's thought long and hard about the election. He's 68, works for the local sewage authority, and says he voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary. These days, he says, he looks at John McCain and sees a carbon copy of President Bush, which he doesn't like.

RICH MINER: Obama? I guess we take a chance on him. I mean, he's a rookie, but he sounds good.

GREENE: This wasn't an easy decision for Rich. He says there was a time when he might not have supported a black candidate.

MINER: I myself at one time was very prejudiced, but I ain't no more. I don't know. I just change my attitude. I'm around - well, I've always been around colored people. I work with them. I mean, I've always worked with them, and I found it early on that blacks sort of took advantage of the situation. But I don't know, anymore - I don't know. I think they're OK as long as they do their end of the job. I don't see nothing wrong with that.

GREENE: So I asked Rich what he thinks of Obama doing the job as president.

MINER: Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah. Fayette Engineering.

GREENE: Industries and businesses come and go in this part of Pennsylvania, but Fayette Engineering has hung on. Russell Mechling just retired as president after a long time.

RUSSEL MECHLING: 1964 til now, that's not so long. It's 46 years.

GREENE: Sitting in his office, he tells me he's voting for Barack Obama, but he doesn't go around boasting about it.

MECHLING: You know, it's a little hard when you think about back in the primary, when 80 percent of your neighbors didn't vote for him, to go around telling people, hey, you made a big mistake. You should have voted for him. She didn't win anyhow.

GREENE: There's another reason he's careful. Russ says people here are struggling with something else.

MECHLING: You know, there still seems to be the race issue. Nobody admits it. Nobody, you know. It's not something that's ever mentioned, but I think there is a racial component there. It's there, and it shouldn't be.

GREENE: Russ says he hopes people take a look at the other differences between Obama and McCain.

MECHLING: I think there are people who were - who have been telling themselves and telling their friends and neighbors that they just couldn't vote for Obama who are thinking now that, wait a minute, given the choice, I think maybe I might vote for Obama. I think he'll do better in Fayette County than you might have expected.

GREENE: Democratic candidates are used to doing well here. Clinton, Gore, and Kerry all won Fayette County. Now, Barack Obama hopes to add his name to that list. David Greene, NPR News, Union Town, Pennsylvania.

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