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."
Web Politics Editor
November 5, 2008; 4:54 PM ET
Categories: Barack Obama , Battlegrounds , The Voters
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