The Election in North Carolina

Kristin Teigen

I spent the last week and a half traveling around rural North Carolina, gaining, in part, a very different perspective on this election. In my neighborhood of Southeast Portland, I’ve seen a grand total of one McCain/Palin sign (they are everywhere in North Carolina), I have a plethora of media outlets from which to choose, and I’ve never had to stand in line to vote.

First, the racism. Days after we got there, a bunch of local idiots went into the woods, shot a black bear in the head, wrapped it in Obama signs and dumped it on the grounds of a nearby campus. A local realtor used his message board to broadcast not a great deal on a house, but a racial epithet about Obama. He took it down only after members of the local Unitarian church protested and picketed him. Where we were, there were a lot of lawn jockeys and even more Confederate flags – on cars, used as curtains in houses, and one, the largest I’ve ever seen, illuminated with spotlights outside a business.

I saw African American teenagers, who grow up with these realities as part of the fabric of their childhood, look at my Obama t-shirts and smile, sometimes slyly, not wanting to show it. They need to know, despite these images, that this country elected a man who looks like them, who can let them know how much power they can truly have.

Second, the lack of information. I have long been curious about those who say that they don’t have enough information to make a choice about a candidate. Then, I spent a week in a rural cabin without cable, much less WiFi, down a country road where the newspaper delivery guy would not travel. We had local and national network news, the quality of which was dismal. That’s it. If I were a stay-at-home mother focused with the business of life, I, too, would have very little to go on as to the positions of the major candidates. Barack Obama's plan for small businesses, which includes support for increased rural access to the Internet, could be a big help.

Despite these first two realities, there is, third, the hope. The small village community center in Flat Rock had, nearly every day, lines out the door of early voters. A survey of the bumper stickers in the parking lot indicated that many were Obama supporters. I chatted with the Obama volunteer passing out leaflets on the sidewalk, who planned on being there every day until the election. There was no McCain volunteer.

There’s more hope. Obama has 15 more offices in the state than McCain, and when he spoke in nearby Asheville, he drew 28,000 people to the city’s largest venue. In comparison, Sarah Palin held a rally last Sunday at the Asheville Civic Center, with a capacity of 1,800, and faced a tremendous number of protesters. And the Democrats are working so hard -- we dropped by the Hendersonville Obama office and spoke with several staffers who stayed until 6:30 on a Friday night. While they were discouraged that an internal poll had Obama down a bit in the state, they were still working hard, day after day, night after night.

Obama might just win North Carolina and increasingly, it looks like he will have a friend in the Senate in Kay Hagen. The fact that it’s even close is a watershed – one of the most vicious racists in the Senate, Jesse Helms, was reelected five times in the state. In 2004, Bush won by 56% even though North Carolinian John Edwards was on the Democratic ticket. The last time it went Democratic was when neighbor Jimmy Carter was running in 1976.

Now, Barack Obama could do it again. If he does, perhaps we will all begin to see the rise of a new South and a new wave of power for those, like the African American teenagers smiling at my shirt, who have long been kept silent.

  • genop (unverified)

    Nice perspective piece. Thanks.

  • steven andresen (unverified)

    I liked the idea that you went there and gathered up your own impressions of what the place was like. I wanted to hear from some of the people you met and visited with. So, the people who worked in the Obama offices, what were their thoughts. I would have liked to hear from some of those who were on the fence.

    Thank you, anyway, for the effort you put into this.

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    Thanks, Kristin. This is fantastic.

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    One of my co-workers here in Seoul is moving back to the US with her husband (he's in the military and stationed over here). They are from North Carolina. She told me that parts of the South still scare her given some of the racism and right wing extremists that live there. It is worth noting that she and her husband are both voting for Obama.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    A co-worker from North Carolina likes to talk about the demographic change that has been slowly remaking that state. One thing he has commented to me about is the influx of Latinos, which may not be much of a factor in the NC vote this year, but which may become important in the future, just as increasing Latino-voter numbers seem to be changing the overall voter profile in, say, Nevada and Colorado. North Carolina has been evolving towards the Palinesque real/fake dichotomy for awhile; it just isn't as far along as Virgina, perhaps.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)

    A co-worker from North Carolina likes to talk about the demographic change that has been slowly remaking that state. One thing he has commented to me about is the influx of Latinos, which may not be much of a factor in the NC vote this year, but which may become important in the future, just as increasing Latino-voter numbers seem to be changing the overall voter profile in, say, Nevada and Colorado. North Carolina has been evolving towards the Palinesque real/fake dichotomy for awhile; it just isn't as far along as Virgina, perhaps.

  • RichW (unverified)

    First of all, Kristin, thank you for your service!

    I have been told that even some racists are voting for Obama. GOTV volunteers in PA have written that one rural couple, when canvassed, stated that they were voting for the N*. Maybe the said it for shock value or maybe it was true.

    Another volunteer posted a picture of a house with a lawn jockey on the porch and a big homemade Obama sign in the yard. Some of these people are realizing, that in spite of their prejudies, Obama will be better for their interests. Change is coming!

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    Kristin, as others have said, a wonderful interesting piece.

    The subject, and it sounds like your experience, IMO are rich enough to justify another post going into some of the kinds of details Steven Andresen mentions, e.g.

    Was this a family trip or were there to work on the Obama campaign?

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    Oops, I meant to write "if you have the time" but got distracted looking for Steven's name.

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    I have a bunch of things on my plate and may not get to a longer post -- if not, it was a family trip in some ways -- we vacationed with my mother as a gift from her given when I graduated with double Master's degrees. I turned it into a political trip as much as I could, considering how tight the race in North Carolina was and how interested I was in the politics of another state. I did what campaigning I could, but not nearly as much as I would have wanted, given that my children and I came down with successive bouts of the stomach flu.

    One other factor that I did want to mention but forgot is the economic crisis that the fast-growing city of Charlotte is facing -- it is the second largest banking center in the US, and is the home of the Bank of America and Wachovia (now owned by Wells-Fargo). Charlotte has rivaled Portland in a stable housing market, but like Portland, it's beginning to fall. Given that an influx of banking personnel may be a factor in the state's demographic shift, the loss or somewhat of a decline of the financial sector may not bode well for what has been a welcome change for Democrats.

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    Hi, I recommend you send this as a diary to Daily Kos. it's really good and inspiring, thanks.

  • Joseph (unverified)

    I lived in Portland for the first 28 years of my life and have lived in Greensboro, NC, for the last year. I was assured by many that North Carolina was progressive and democratic - for the South. That's an important qualifier, I've come to find out.

    Here in Greensboro there aren't Confederate flags, but there's quite a few McCain-Palin yard signs. There's also a lot - a LOT - of Obama-Biden yard signs and car stickers, especially in the parking lot at the recreation center where I waited in line for over an hour to vote a few days ago.

    Another thing to remember about the South is their tendency to "cling to religion." This is not a myth. Elizabeth Dole ran an ad the other day accusing Kay Hagan of being "Godless." Yes, in the modern era, in America, it is apparently acceptable to question a candidate's fitness for office due to their religious beliefs (or non-beliefs). Hagan does claim to be a Christian, but honestly, why is it acceptable (or even legal) to discuss religious beliefs in a political campaign? America was founded on the separation of church and state, and yet more than 230 years later a sitting member of the US Senate places a campaign ad asking voters if they want to support a candidate who is "Godless." I was appalled when I saw the ad, and pleased when Hagan filed a lawsuit against Dole for defamation and libel.

    It would be absurd if Kay Hagan were to lose this election because she is tied to an organization that believes there is no "God." She is presently the NC State Senator from the district where I reside, and I believe she will be a good US Senator. There has been a substantial demographic shift here in NC over the last few years, to which I contributed, and I would be more than disappointed if the God factor was motivation enough to cost a candidate an election in light of NC's newfound "progressive" status. What really scares me is that this a point of discussion in a supposedly "progressive" state, and it causes me to wonder about these other states around here that haven't earned that label.

    I realize that Greensboro, Raleigh, and (especially) Asheville are progressive and liberal compared to the rest of the state, but there seems to be a good amount of support for Obama and Hagan overall, as well as many of the Dems running for statewide offices. There's still hope for the surprisingly large number of electoral votes this state possesses. As you said, the simple fact that it's even close here is a milestone.

    It's no Southeast Portland, to be certain, but we do stand a good chance here.

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    Joseph I spent 10 years in North Carolina, and I guess I still have a warm spot in my heart for that state. I feel compelled to apply a few corrections.

    It's all about perspective. It is Portland that is the exception, not the rule.

    It's not that North Carolinians "cling to religion," it's that Portlanders are overwhelming secular. Keep in mind that over 90% of Americans say they believe in God. Over 2/3 say they attend church weekly. We have historically been and still are one of the most religious countries in the world.

    Religion has always and continues to play a prominent role in American politics. If you're surprised that religion is playing a part in a political campaign, you just haven't been paying attention.

    North Carolina resisted a lottery for a long time because it was deemed to be regressive. Oregon has sucked at the gambling teat for decades.

    North Carolina has one of the nation's most progressive abortion laws.

    North Carolina has a much more progressive income tax than Oregon, although they do have a sales tax (another case where Oregon is the exception, not the rule).

    And I am just not sure that racial relations in Portland are just so peachy. A state like North Carolina has real, deep, racial and economic divisions. In Portland, we celebrate our tolerance, but our tolerance of what? White upper middle class folk?

    Plop some Portlanders down in "down east" NC, or some of the rural areas Kristin is talking about, or Rocky Mount, or the projects in Durham, and let's see what happens.

    <h2>By the way, try some barbecue for me. Miss the stuff dearly.</h2>

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