Is race an issue in the current presidential election? I would like to think that, no, we are way beyond that in this day and age...But the other day, reading the New York Times in a local coffee house, I ran across this story (below). In Latrobe, Pennsylvania, home of Rolling Rock Beer and Mr. Rogers, it seems that race may be coming to a boil - just under the surface...
In Ex-Steel City, Voters Deny Race Plays a Role - NYT
LATROBE, Pa. — Ask whom she might vote for in the coming presidential primary election and Nash McCabe, 52, seems almost relieved to be able to unpack the dossier she has been collecting in her head.
It is not about whom she likes, but more a bill of particulars about why she cannot vote for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.
“How can I vote for a president who won’t wear a flag pin?” Mrs. McCabe, a recently unemployed clerk typist, said in a booth at the Valley Dairy luncheonette in this quiet, small city in western Pennsylvania.
Mr. Obama has said patriotism is about ideas, not flag pins.
“I watch him on TV,” Mrs. McCabe said. “I keep looking for that lapel pin.”
Asked the same question this week at a sports bar, Bob Stano, an engineer and a hunter, cradled his chin for a long minute.
“I really do like Barack Obama,” Mr. Stano said, mentioning Mr. Obama before anyone else. “Except for his politics, he seems like a good thing for the country.”
“But the Second Amendment is too important to me,” Mr. Stano said. “I just won’t vote for him.”
Americans have a long tradition of voting against candidates rather than for them. But in the first presidential campaign with an African-American as a serious contender, there may be a new gyration in the way voters think, the need to explain the vote against the candidate who is black.
“I don’t say this because he’s black, but the guy just seems arrogant to me, the way he expects things to go his way,” said Harry Brobst, a truck driver who had never registered to vote until this year.
Mr. Brobst said he would vote in the primary “not so much for,” but against.
People are not shy about dismissing out of hand Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York for her supposed untrustworthiness or Senator John McCain of Arizona for what is described as his “100 years” approach to the Iraq war.
But when dismissing Mr. Obama, voters in this former steel center, whatever their racial feelings, seem almost compelled to list their reasons, if only to pre-empt the unspoken race question.
Because he voted “present” too often as an Illinois state senator. Because he speaks very well, but has not talked about reviving the coal industry. Because he would not command the respect of the military. Because there is something unsettling about his perfect calm, they say.
“Everyone seems to think of him as the answer to all the problems facing the country, but I just don’t think Obama is the answer,” Janine Koutsky said when asked for her reading of the contenders in the grandstand at Legion Keener Park, watching her son play on the high school baseball team.
Latrobe was selected last week for its blue-collar “cred” as the backdrop for the announcement by Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania of his endorsement of Mr. Obama. But it is hard to tell what any group of voters here truly thinks.
Polls show Mr. Obama gaining on Mrs. Clinton among likely Democratic voters in the state, including whites.
At a public forum on March 28 in neighboring Greensburg, where he began a weeklong bus tour, Mr. Obama packed the Hempfield Area High School gym.
As everywhere, including on a radio dial that is wall to wall throughout the Pennsylvania interior with conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, race and gender questions are almost never directly addressed when voters are asked about their preferences.
Deb Friedline, an insurance agent here, said Mrs. Clinton was too likely to make decisions based on emotion, but when asked if that was because the senator is a woman, Ms. Friedline said, “No, I honestly don’t think of her as a woman.”
Gail Delsordo, who said she would vote for Mr. McCain, added: “I don’t see Obama as a ‘color,’ but I do think he needs to get away from mimicking Dr. Martin Luther King. I’m not degrading Dr. King. I liked what he stood for, and it’s a shame what happened to him. But Obama needs to be his own person.”
In a place like Latrobe, which the census says is 99 percent white, the race issue is almost an unexplored country that people visit like tourists with a phrase book. Driving past abandoned steel mills and a brewery and through a neatly swept downtown where tulips have sprouted along the 19th-century railroad line that spawned the city, diversity is mainly in the exterior paint of the residential bungalows.
“When I worked in the steel mill, there were always a few guys who were black,” Robert Bradish said. “But you wouldn’t even know they were black, we got along so well.”
Mr. Bradish said he would vote for Mr. Obama.
Latrobe is probably best known as the birthplace of Rolling Rock beer. The label was sold to Anheuser-Busch, and brewing was moved in 2006 to Newark.
A new company came in that employs fewer people, mostly at lower wages.
“I’m making $5 an hour less than I did before,” said Rick Musick, who parked his truck outside the brewery just before the 5 p.m. shift.
Like almost everyone interviewed in Latrobe, Mr. Musick said he was worried about the economy, health care and the price of gasoline.
He said he did not “know what to make of Obama.” Mr. Musick said he had liked the senator but then decided that he did not “for a bunch of reasons.”
“It’s not about race,” he added. “It’s about a feeling I have.”
Mr. Musick checked his watch, beep-locked his truck and walked across a mostly empty employee parking lot.