Bucking the Tide: Supporting Obama in the South

Politics, Presidential Elections, US Elections, US Politics

It’s hard to avoid feeling isolated as a blue guy in a red state.

A few months ago during the primary season, my Mom asked me who I was supporting in the upcoming primary election.  When I said “Obama”, she was shocked, so shocked I could hear it through the phone.  “I just thought with the racial thing…”  It was one of those surreal moments when you realize your mom living in rural Alabama doesn’t quite share your perspective on life.  Not that my suburban neighborhood in North Carolina is much better.  Gary Younge from the Guardian has an interesting take in his election series from Roanoke, VA.

When Terry McAuliffe came to talk on Tuesday many of the questions expressed a genuine fear that Republicans had better talking points. They kept asking how to counter Republican friends who said this or that until at one stage McAuliffe asked one of the questioners, if she had any Democratic friends. Anna Robertson, who runs the Pop’s Ice Cream and Soda Bar in town, says she overheard some patrons whispering about their support for Obama at the counter until they spotted they Obama poster and then said out loud. “Oh, it’s okay. They have an Obama poster.” What did they think was going to happen? She wasn’t really sure. When you ask black voters whether whites will vote for Obama they say “they should”. When you ask white Democrats many confess they don’t know.

This timidity, which others have also pointed out, seems strange for two reasons. First, there is far more enthusiasm for Obama than McCain in this area. In the city there are Obama yard signs all everywhere. Two weeks ago Katherine Devin held a Barack Obama Bake-a-rama sale and raised $16,000. Tonight she is holding an art sale with local artists donating work. During an hour-long drive around the county I saw one yard sign and three bumper stickers. Though they love Palin, events for McCain here are few and far between. Neither the city nor the county voted for him during the primaries.

Secondly, even if being a Democrat in Roanoke City feels rather isolating, this is nonetheless a good time to be a Democrat in Virginia. In the last three years the Republicans have lost the governorship, a Senate seat and the state senate. They are about to lose another Senate seat. Most pertinently they are not only having to contest Virginia for the first time in more than 40 decades – they are now considered to be losing here for the first time since the election started and and are sinking pretty much everywhere else in the country.

I know exactly what Gary is seeing and I know what those Virginia Obama fans are feeling.  My suburban, mostly white, upper middle class neighborhood has several McCain signs without an Obama sign in sight.  My next door neighbor put up two, I think just to make up for time since my Obama bumper sticker has been driving around the neighborhood for a while.  I tried to engage him in a political discussion some time ago, before those signs went up.  He has every reason to vote against McCain if not for Obama. I quickly got a rant about how Rev. Wright hates America and how all the black people working where he works are on drugs. Is my home really an island of common sense in a sea of rabid Republicanism?  Probably not.  But where are my allies?  Who are the uncommitted who I can reach out to?  I know there is a significant Obama following in town, but it seems they stay low, avoid attention.  It would help if the Obama camp pushed their own signs but that doesn’t seem to be their strategy.  Of course, that hasn’t stopped me.  I keep walking the neighborhood, looking for someone who wants to talk politics, who might be undecided, might be open to logic.  And Obama supporters want to talk.  I ended up talking with a complete stranger about who Obama would pick as a running mate after he saw my bumper sticker.  There’s hope.  I won Mom over (so she tells me).  But if I was truly successful with her, it will be in the privacy of the voting booth.  It might be ok in suburban North Carolina, but she won’t say she’s for Obama in rural Alabama.



  1. Butrflynet  •  Oct 3, 2008 @6:28 am

    Yard signs are available in the Obama store on the campaign’s website. Here’s a link. http://store.barackobama.com/product_p/ys29682.htm

  2. engineer  •  Oct 3, 2008 @10:18 am

    I’m going there now. My latest trip to the Obama HQ over lunch was only worth a bumper sticker.

  3. nimh  •  Oct 3, 2008 @5:35 pm

    Hey, interesting local perspective. If a bit sad. The weight of history. But it looks like, slowly, things can really change on this count. Good for you to fly the flag, so to say.