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In Pa., Pockets of Doubt About an Obama Presidency

By Robin Shulman
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- The idea of an African American president doesn't sit well with John and Marlene Roberts, who were eating a breakfast of eggs and hashbrowns at Denny's the morning after Sen. Barack Obama's victory.

"I guess you could call us prejudiced," said Marlene, 62, a retired collection agency worker wearing a diamond-studded cross around her neck.

"I don't believe a black person should be president," continued Marlene, as she took a forkful of eggs over-easy. "I hope he does wonderful things. But I don't like it."

Here in this onetime coal-mining town of 43,000, a hilly landscape of trees ablaze with fall color and thick with outlets like Dunkin Donuts, Taco Bell and Wendy's, there are plenty of Obama supporters -- the larger Luzerne county voted 54 percent for him -- but there are also a good number of foes, and some of them talk with discomfort about his race.

This is a traditionally Democratic town, with a Democratic mayor. Yet Sen. John McCain poured resources into this largely white, working-class county and others like it in northeastern Pennsylvania, perhaps noting the fierce opposition to Obama among some of its residents.

Few people acknowledge racial prejudice as nakedly as the Roberts. But when asked how they feel about an African American president, some answer like Matt Sobieski, 23, a security guard, who shrugged, "Nothing you can do. He's already elected."

Many people bring up Michelle Obama's comment last February that "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country." She explained later that, as someone who had felt disconnected from politics, she was excited to see "people rolling up their sleeves." But for some, that didn't take away the sting.

"She hates this country to begin with, and that's really bad for the first lady," said William Kreischer, 74, a security guard.

"She shouldn't have said that," said Margaret Tomasko, 85, a retired machine operator, who, like many others, said that, though she has been a lifelong Democrat, she supported McCain yesterday.

Others, like Len Zoeller, 66, a retired machinist, said of the president-elect: "I don't trust him. He doesn't seem American to me."

Of course there are also Obama supporters, both cautious and eager, who helped him win this state.

"When I first saw him, I regarded him as a black man, but when I saw him talking I didn't see that part," said Ron Kukowski, 65, a court witness clerk, who said he voted for Obama.

"He seems like a charming person, he can talk to people easy," said Dan Smith, 52, who works at an auto glass manufacturer. "I think he's got to concentrate on the lower-middle-class, they're taking a beating," said Smith, who lost his $19-an-hour union job in 2004 when the factory closed, and now makes half that.

Others in the town were excited about the election of the first African American as leader of the country.

"It's great that he won," said Mike Haines, 21, who is unemployed. "It says a lot about equality, and for the past 20 years public opinion on race has changed a lot. It means something to people like me and other people that just don't care about skin color."

"We made history," said Susan Faltz, 44, a grocery store supervisor, over a breakfast of pancakes. "I never thought it would happen, to tell you the truth."

By Web Politics Editor  |  November 5, 2008; 4:54 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama , Battlegrounds , The Voters  
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I need to add that when ridiculous comments about his color are posted, the ones making those remarks don't give a toss that his mother is "white" according to their standards. They see a black man. That is rather insulting to his parentage.

Posted by: Annie008 | November 6, 2008 1:45 PM | Report abuse

What does it mean for anyone - whatever the "color" - to be president! To my thinking the necesary ingredients that qualify that someone to be chosen by a majority who feels he/she is able or has shown the capacity to hold the post is what ought to be considered. Nothing else! Especially the so-called "color" of the person's skin. That is not just prejudice, it is rank stupidity. Say, he is uneducated; he is not American-born; he is a hardened criminal but not that he is black! What boggles my imagination most is that no one appears to consider that his natural birth mother is a "good old American" woman. How small-minded can we get!

Posted by: Annie008 | November 6, 2008 1:42 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: bobbie3 | November 6, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Judge him for what he does, not for what Karl
Rove's elves of fear tell you What to believe!

Posted by: asclepious2 | November 6, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

We are in a different time in America. Change must come for the prosperity of all including those mentioned in the article.This is not a black and white issue anymore. It is we the people.One has to look at life and prosperity through a wide angle lens and not through a pin hole camera. Education will do that.This is what is missing in America. After all our literacy rate is only 30%. We have to be in the 90% range for success and prosperity.Think about this.

Posted by: ades2domanie | November 6, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Obama won now it's time to examine your hearts.Remember you are suppose to be Christians.

Posted by: cairo131 | November 6, 2008 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Toritto, did you read the article? These people are described as life long Democrats.

Posted by: conman2 | November 6, 2008 2:05 AM | Report abuse

I couldnt agree with you more, Johhny.If people were to hear Obamas entire comment from earlier in the year when the bit of "Small town people cling to god and guns" and realized he wasnt putting them down, but rather sharing a widely accepted opinion that the GOP has tricked many of these small town idealists that all they need to worry about is just that, God and Guns, let us Big Whigs in Washington take care of everything else for you.And these same people, losing their jobs, being forced to work longer for less pay, or whos once decently paid jobs are told"we cant pay you that anymore, we have to stay competitive or well close down" which simply means the top of the income chain isnt happy with their income, so were cutting yours to fix ours.
To simply say a black man shouldnt be president, has to be as ignorant a statement as i have ever heard in modern times.I wonder if she was wearing her White robe and Pointed hood.Idiots like that are not necessary, nor should their bigotry be accepted as a individual right when it comes to out and out Racism.

Posted by: mullett | November 5, 2008 9:27 PM | Report abuse

That one, won!

Posted by: bpowerful2005 | November 5, 2008 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Of course the media will NOT report about the black panther thugs standing outside of polling stations in philly with bats, pathetic.

Posted by: the_internationalist | November 5, 2008 8:33 PM | Report abuse

These people are extremely relevant to what happens next, as Obama himself more less acknowledged last night. We are one country and these people are part of it. The biggest problem I see in places like these towns in Pennsylvania, and in Tennessee, where I live, is getting these victimized people to take control of their own lives. God, Guns, and Guts doesn't cut it. It makes people feel less powerless, but it's useless for getting us out of the fix we're in. People of all races in this country need to learn that they can have a future if they drop the bitterness and excuses and assume real responsibility for the country's and their own future.

Posted by: johnyates1 | November 5, 2008 6:29 PM | Report abuse

...and so the Grand Old Party, the Party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, of Reagan and Ike, has become the party of old, rural, uneducated, bigoted white people.

...very sad.


Posted by: toritto | November 5, 2008 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Get over it people! These type of dinosaurs need to move forward. The good news is maybe seeing the great job Obama will do will help this country move beyond racism.

Posted by: SFGuy | November 5, 2008 6:14 PM | Report abuse

I was kind of hoping that maybe these types of stories would no longer be reported. Obama won. What relevance do these rantings hold now?

Posted by: navec245 | November 5, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

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