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October 31st, 2008
03:14 PM ET

Voters see Obama's run in shades of gray

Barbara Barrett
Washington Correspondent for The News & Observer

Few say that race is an issue, but his candidacy prompts introspection

As a child growing up in Durham, Lonnie Torain remembers when he would walk past a restaurant, with the warm food smelling so good, beckoning him inside. He had to walk around back to get fed. This month Torain, 65, stepped into a voting booth in his hometown and cast his presidential ballot for another dark-skinned man, Barack Obama.

"We've been waiting a long time," Torain said. "It really made me feel good."

In North Carolina, Obama is working to become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since Jimmy Carter in 1980, and to become America's first black president.

Conversations with voters this past week show that Obama's candidacy has led voters of many backgrounds to wonder about race in America. He has given blacks and other minorities pride in his achievements, made some whites uncomfortable and led voters of many skin tones to question their own beliefs and motivations.

"Race is always going to be an issue," said Hunter Bacot, director of the Elon University poll, which surveys adults statewide on issues of society and politics. "I don't think it's going to be an issue of any significance. ... The demographics have changed so much in the last 20 years. Jesse Helms might have a hard time getting re-elected."

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Filed under: 2008 Election • Barack Obama • Raw Politics
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Karen J

    Mary V. from Salt Lake City, I posted before I read your comment. Two minds in the same groove!

    October 31, 2008 at 7:42 pm |
  2. Candace Grube / Corona, CA

    The Nerve that Sarah Palin has struck in women is embarrassment as a woman and an American. I am embarrassed for them and ashamed of them.

    Her political experience is from a very small political pond called “Mayberry”. She has absolutely no knowledge of how government works, constitutional Law, Foreign Affairs, Economy or the environment.

    Everyone in Alaska gets $3,000 from the Oil Companies – Palin is merely the manager of an Exxon / Mobil Station. Palin may be intelligent but so far she hasn’t utilized intelligence or common sense when speaking and has absolutely no substance.

    Am I proud to vote for Obama / Biden – :You Betcha”

    October 31, 2008 at 7:41 pm |
  3. Larry

    Jim Crow Laws were introduced to the american south by the democrats. Don't believe me; get educated.

    October 31, 2008 at 7:35 pm |
  4. Karen J

    I have some advice for David (3.29pm ET poster).

    1. Don't resent Sen. Obama's justifiable decision to opt out of the public-campaign-funds option, which so infuriates Sen. McCain. Sen. Obama was smart enough to see that McCain would be starting the campaign race a rhetorical mile ahead of him if they both started out "even" financially. The only way Obama could get "up to speed" in this past 6 months would be to rely on private campaign donations, the volume of which infuriates Sen. McCain even further.

    2. You call yourself successful, but at what cost? What a dreadful schedule you worked - did you ever sleep? Relax? Get out and take a drive in the country? It bothers me that you mention that dreadful schedule, then refer to people around you as "lazy and motivated". Wow, a 9-to-5-er, whether it's a teller in a bank or a grocery-store cashier or a plumber, is LAZY?

    3. Try to have a little charity for those people you see on street corners begging for change. A lot of them are veterans the VA with the complicity of our current government have refused to treat for countless bogus reasons, for physical, emotional, and/or mental problems.

    Some others - those who've survived this long, anyway - are relics of Ronald Reagan's hospital-downsizing policies, which often led to dumping clients out of hospitals with inadequate aftercare. And still more are unlucky in losing jobs, family and property through divorce, leaving them with nothing with which to start their life anew. That's why we have food banks, homeless shelters, and for the most unfortunate of women and children, domestic violence shelters.

    4. I've been appalled at the Republican campaign's "base" rants about "what's mine is MINE, why should I share?", which is the real-world translation of this anti-"spreading the wealth" anti-"socialism" criticism Joe the Not-Plumber started, and which the McCain/Palin team have shamelessly exploited.

    It's not only not charitable, it's the most selfish philosophy I've heard in a long time.

    5. BTW, my nephew tosses pizzas every summer at a "gourmet" pizza parlor to make money so he can return to college. His income depends largely on tips. Unlike most base-wage service industry businesses, the pizza parlor he works for "spreads the wealth". In other words, they divide up the total proceeds in tips among all the workers equally - the table waiters, the guy at the cash register, and the pizza chefs. NO one feels like the boss is giving away their "hard earned dollars" to someone else who doesn't "deserve" it.

    October 31, 2008 at 7:26 pm |
  5. herb

    One thing we all have to step back and take a look. The USA is a melting pot. Senator Obama mother was white and his dad was African he has both side of the ethnic group. Majority young Americans could care less of a person color.

    October 31, 2008 at 7:13 pm |
  6. MARIA

    NC VOTED FOR CARTER! Do You remember Carter (& Amy) – 18% Mortgage Intrest rates! 21% Car Loan Rates!! 10% Unemployment!!! The Iranian Hostages!!! Inflation over Inflation!!! Gas Crisis!!! Dems. Spend, Ban drilling and Nuclear power and keep us hostage to hostile countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia!!! Cut 25% of the Defense budget??? Why not cut NASA a little and all those unnecessary payback Earmarks?!?!??! Why does Obama want to weaken our Defense when Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, N. Korea and very quietly Saudi Arabia are partnering against us????? How about Clinton who promised the world – national healthcare within six months of being elected!!!! He was in there 8 yrs. and we didn't get healthcare!!! Lie, Lie, Lie!!!

    October 31, 2008 at 6:40 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    Racism, sexism, a lot of issues in this election in addition to the economic, military, education, and health insurance issues. I expected the racism – expected it to be worse actually than it is. What I didn't expect was the sexism, especially on Hillary Clinton – and for the press to be leading the pack on this one. I had thought women had made so much progress towards equal rights and respect and I'm disappointed to find that its still a man's world.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    October 31, 2008 at 6:37 pm |
  8. rita

    I don't know what to think about people who won't vote for someone, even though they may agree with the position, on the basis of race.
    I came here from Europe when I was 8 years old. I felt out of place when I was young mainly because of the language barrier. I was picked on in school for not being able to communicate. Kids thought I was stupid and sometimes even got physically abusive. At that time I thought it was something I had to go through, sort of an initiation. Only when I grew older I understood that there is no excuse for someone to make fun of you, or say or do derogatory things against you just because you are "different".
    I cannot and do NOT accept any derogatory things being said about either candidate. For myself, I looked at the Facts presented, and in my case, I feel Obama has the most logical, intuitive, INCLUSIVE views for this country that has so many different races and people living here.
    I especially appreciate the view that Obama takes about being one United States of America and about being your brother's keeper and working together for the common good. I think this was what the founding fathers meant when they wrote the Constitution. We are all in it together no matter what.
    McCain on the other hand, seems to be using dirty tricks to hide the fact that he has nothing new to give us in the form of policies, and he is using the FEAR tactics that were so effectively used in the last two elections. I do not agree with his VP pick, I think she is more "show" than substance.
    For me, Obama is not black or white. He is the best of both and his inner light shines through in the way he treats people and in the way he wants to help this country.
    Go vote your conscience.

    October 31, 2008 at 6:06 pm |
  9. Teresa Chicago

    Obama is smart and all smartest people we have in country endorsed him. MC Cain is aggressor and we will have more wars and big economic problems with him-simply because he don't know economy. Obama is only choice black and white and smart!!

    October 31, 2008 at 5:59 pm |
  10. David

    @ Mary – I agree with you with regard to mentally ill people and learning disabilities however if you read deeper i said "Don’t get me wrong I am all for helping the needy, but who is needy and not just lazy?"

    I don’t think, with all due respect to you that most people understand the full impact of Obama’s plan.

    The rate, for federal taxes will go up to 40% from 35%, and then if you make over $250, there will be a 4% SURTAX, and most of the deductions that are taken will be dismissed.

    The increase will look to be 10-15% based your deductions.

    10% of $250K is $25,000 and 15% is $37,500.

    Now granted the taxes need to get passed by congress and 60% of a presidential candidates initiatives never come to fruition.

    So I'm left thinking that the American dream is an illusion. My father came to this country and washed dishes and worked his way up to a decent personal net worth and yearly earning – He wants to see me excel what he did and more, but will i have that same luxury or will i have it stripped away and given to lazy Americans?

    Maybe i should become a lazy American???

    I am officially an undecided voter after 14 months of Obama-mania!

    October 31, 2008 at 5:55 pm |
  11. Anthony Steele from Kansas City, MO

    I'm a Black man that was in California when Tom Bradley ran for Govenor. I can tell you that many Blacks didn't go to the polls for Bradley because they were lukewarm about him as a mayor and never enthusiatic about him like Obama. That's why Pete Wilson won.

    October 31, 2008 at 5:49 pm |
  12. aware

    Race has been a divisive strategy ever since Camp Obama introduced it in the primaries and continued with it in the general! Sexism has also been a divisive tactic used by Camp Obama!

    But Obama's latest Palin attack video has struck a nerve with women everywhere!

    Palin is speaking in this video but her voice is silenced. This is misogyny at its worst! 😦

    I voted for McCain/Palin 08. They are America's only choice for authentic reform! 🙂

    October 31, 2008 at 5:30 pm |
  13. Mindy Chatsworth, Ca.

    Unfortunately, racism is still alive and well in this country. Some will refuse to vote for Obama because he is black. That is beyond sad, it's outrageous. But Barack Obama is fighting to appeal to those who have a rational basis for voting for president. He can make his argument and hope to appeal to people who see him as the Democratic candidate for president.

    I do believe that the Republican party has played the race card, subliminally and blatantly. But we knew that was to be expected. If you have nothing to offer, nothing to run on, then you trot out someone like Palin, who will read her script from the teleprompter and continue to character assassinate someone like Barack Obama. She isn't fit to wear his shoes. She isn't remotely in the same class. I am so proud of Obama for standing up to some of the most insulting, vicious attacks I have seen in my lifetime. He has shown a toughness and poise that I respect and admire.

    The Republicans will gladly take the votes of racists any day of the week. If they are not careful, with their message of hate and divisiveness, all they will have left in their party is racists.

    October 31, 2008 at 5:26 pm |
  14. Tyrone

    How soon have we forgotten Jim Crow segregation laws and how they divided and drew hate generation to generation. Most really don`t know why they hate. Just taught. I`m yet only 35yrs. I still remember being called N-word yet it didn`t have the same impact as those before me. I grew up attending catholic school where it was multi-segregated. Where I saw different cultures, foods, langstrive uages which made me have a different take and understand when coming in contact with other races. One thing I really understand I grew up in Carribbean eating jerk chicken and rice and peas. Another brother may grew in Middle East eating hummus and pita bread. We still have the same values and strive and goals.Asians, Turkish, Polish, Arabs, Afrikkans, East europeans and Americans

    October 31, 2008 at 5:16 pm |
  15. Larry

    If obama is getting 92% of the black vote, yes I know there are also white, hispanic & asian voters for him, then how is that not divisive?
    Even John King will say 'there's a large african-american population in this area, so obama will do well there.'

    October 31, 2008 at 5:16 pm |
  16. jessy-plantation fl

    You know when gov Palin accuses Sen Obama of being a socialist,and sometimes even having terroris ties, thats being a racist because of his name . They would not admit it but thats how i and most of my friends feel when she say`s these things. I hope she apologises to the Nation for this.

    October 31, 2008 at 4:57 pm |
  17. Melissa

    I think "racism" will never be completely rid of as long as we are on this earth. I'm curious to know what color blood those who are racist against African-Americans think those people bleed? Green? Blue? Purple? Hmm... try RED, the very same colour every single person, including those white folk who are anti-black (you know who you are, closet or not) bleed. ...

    As far as race and politics–I think the US is long over-due to have a non-white male as a President. That said, those who choose to vote solely on race and not on the actual issues need to have a gut check. It's like McCain trying to tell people that because he's a VietNam vet, everyone should vote for him. That's just insane and it creates a divided country in a time when we, as a country, need to be united. There's a great reason why our forefathers called this country the UNITED States of America... along with the cliche "united we stand, divided we fall"... We've seen what a divided America brings, I think its time to create a united America.

    October 31, 2008 at 4:45 pm |
  18. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    @ CINDY in GA: you are right, my Republican friend, racism is alive and well, sadly.

    Racism is simply fear, ignorance. You can not hate when you really get to know someone.

    But, I believe that we, Americans, have made great strides! We have been changing, slowly but surely. Remember the first state in the primaries, was IOWA, a white state gave Sen. Obama his first win! And it was a huge win. Perhaps some people who say they will vote for him are lying and will do the opposite when they are voting. My gut feeling is that MOST who say they will vote for him.......will vote for him.

    Even some very conservative friends of ours, voted for Sen. Obama, and their cars have Obama signs on them! These Republicans voted for Sen. Obama because they are sick of the vile politics of the McCain/Palin campaign...........and because they are convinced that Palin would make a terrible president if something happened to McCain (God forbid).

    October 31, 2008 at 4:43 pm |
  19. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    Obama has inspired me at 43 yrs old to decide to serve my community. Never in my life have I ever thought of public service. My whole view of people and helping people has changed dramatically. May sound strange to some. But, all of a sudden, I'm on the right track. My selfishness is gone. I know I can.............

    October 31, 2008 at 4:42 pm |
  20. Glory Burke

    Race should not be an issue, but many of us, white or black, conceal our true feelings when our backs are pushed against the wall. As far as I am concerned, Obama shows that he is capable of making good decisions, he is a clear thinker, and one who discourages slander. I admire him for the manner in which he treats varioua comments and criticisms from the McCain camp, which, through Sarah Palin attempt at every opportunity to make out that he associates with people who are of disrepute. Gosh, if Obama work at a Universty or on a school board, and colleagues are/were involved in acts that are contraband should he reject them in this academic arena? This is a form of racism; It is racism too, to victimize or deliberately lie on another in order to get an advantage over that person.
    This election campaign has been full of racism from McCain and his camp, and it might well hurt the democfrats

    October 31, 2008 at 4:38 pm |
  21. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    @ DAVID: You sound like a young man, just getting started in his career. I used to think just like you in my 20's, "I work hard, people need to work hard too," Right. So many people just do not do the tough work in order to succeed. What changed my mind about helping the poor, is this: many of the poor are mentally ill, there are also many who are not functional, perhaps they have some learning difficultly or some other handicap that is not visible to us. Volunteering has taught me that truly its not all "black & white."

    I could write a book, David, and tell you that as you age, God willing, you will see that life is a bit more complicated. Its not about "you"...... we are all in this together. Here is the thing:

    My husband owns a small successful business, and Yes, Sen. Obama will be raising our taxes. WHY did we vote for Sen. Obama? Well, because we believe that the Republicans have ALL BUT BANKRUPTED our nation. During the Bush/Cheney years they have DOUBLED our National debt to .......$10 TRILLION. And the number ONE reason for bankruptcy in our Nation is due to healthcare. Right now, you are employed and have healthcare but what happens when you lose your job? And get sick?

    How about Bush/Cheney LYING to us, about the reason to attack Iraq? IS integrity something you value? I can not tell you whom to vote for, only that you do your research, go to each candidates web site and read their policies. DAVID, you sound like a very smart man, use your smarts and decide wisely whom you will cast your vote for.

    October 31, 2008 at 4:35 pm |
  22. lori brumfield

    hi my name is lori brumfield,out of fortworth texas i'm not shocked about any of this my god says everything will be revealed and a new president will change this nation i love obama and never met him he doesn't seem to be greedy more grateful of his sucess than arrogant or selfish mccain doesn't have a chance with obama because this making history people are voting i saw a 109 year old woman vote obama that telling u something there she live more then us i follow her i love him because change is what we need and i'm not scared i have tied my shoes and ready to live equally once and for all.also obama don't forget i will be watching out my rear view mirror,even if obama wins and do otherwise will still out due bush anyday why!because i'm a hurricane katrina survivor and bush left people out there days dieing where was our president i'm not scared go to church if u r .

    October 31, 2008 at 4:27 pm |
  23. Joanne, Syracuse, NY

    Racism exists. However, the factors impacting this election may not be altered by this feature if those who vote for Obama because of his race equal those who will not vote for him because of his race.

    I would like to believe that the President of his law review at Harvard. His wonderful family background, his intellect, his ability to relate to all American's, common sense, and consistency in presentation of his platform, perfect representation of his party...will determine the win in this election. OBAMA/BIDEN

    October 31, 2008 at 4:14 pm |
  24. David

    We need to come together as a people and forget all the he said she said and make up your own minds based on the issues not the drama. Believe in yourself and have confidence to make the right decision to help all people not just yourself. This is the reason why our country is in the state it is today because of selfish acts by our government and the wealthy who are not willing to help their fellow americans. We are strong as a people and weak as individuals. I have served this country in the armed forces for 6 years and was discharged due to chemical exposure which caused my disability from the gulf war 90. I believe we need a change for our country to help everyone to make us strong again. You can not expect change when you continue the same action. Stop all the gossip and all the jabs and talk about the issues of our country. This goes out to all politicians. Believe in what you have to say and that should be enough.

    October 31, 2008 at 3:59 pm |
  25. Mango

    Those who are racist should refuse help from a black firefighter when their house are on fire.

    October 31, 2008 at 3:48 pm |
  26. Paul Singer

    I'm concerned about the latest attacts from the McCain campaign to portray Senator Obama as anti-semetic. I'm a Jew who is both a strong supporter and contributor to Senator Obama. Senator Obama is surrounded by Jewish supporters, some of whom are his largest fund raisers and donors. Considering the amount of hatred exposed at many of the Palin rallies, I'd suspect that anti-semitism and racism runs rampant within the Republican Party and among many McCain/Palin supports. I don't believe this to be the case with Obama supporters or within the Democratic Party, and certainly not from Senator Obama. I wonder what Joe the unlicensed plumber's view on race and religion are?

    October 31, 2008 at 3:35 pm |
  27. Susan

    He Barack Obama is wanting to only discuss the issues, playing fair, staying calm, being inclusive and even forgiving and looking for the best in everyone... I just hope we don't let him down for I am 100% sure he won't let any of us down, of all races, creeds, colors, genders, political ideologies... he is made of the same stuff as Lincoln, a great thinker, speaker, writer, politician, leader and most of all human being. I hope seeing him as President holds the mirror to the face of every racist and instead of their shame for their ignorance and cruelty crippling them further, it heals what is broken in them that makes them racist!

    October 31, 2008 at 3:34 pm |
  28. Cindy

    Few say that race is an issue because most who have racial hatred won't say it out loud. They wait until they are in the voting booth to show it.

    There are racist in every class of our society. To think that racism is gone is absurd. I've seen and heard a lot of younger people filled with hate...black, white and Spanish. More so than I heard when I grew up. Racism is far from over unfortunately.

    Cindy...Ga.

    October 31, 2008 at 3:32 pm |
  29. David

    I am a 28 year business owner of one of the fastest growing company’s in CT. For the last year or so I have been all for Obama as I felt that he was intelligent, not persuaded by the private sector, and an out of the box thinker. However, as of the last few weeks I have realized that the media has really driven this election in his favor and I am outraged about how much money he has gotten through the private sector. In addition I realized that I work 12-18 hour days plus weekends in a effort to become successful and the people around me that are lazy and unmotivated will benefit from it. Don’t get me wrong I am all for helping the needy, but who is needy and not just lazy? My education wasn’t stellar, in fact I barely attended high school. But I have enough self confidence and drive to try, and not stand on the corner begging for change or waitering for cash tips as I did in high school. So now I’m stuck in a rut because I would vote for McCain had he not chosen Palin for VP. In my opinion that was a clear indicator that his decision making skills are not that of a President. On the other hand Obama has executed a perfect campaign but wants to give away my hard earned dollars. I wish Obama could share the ticket with McCain and Palin would become an anchor on a local TV station in Alaska. Seriously confused, David.

    October 31, 2008 at 3:29 pm |