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A Big GOP Rally But a Divided Electorate

Tim Craig

The supporters of GOP presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, started lining up at 5 a.m. in Fairfax City for the Republican ticket's first rally in Virginia. And they kept coming. And coming. And coming.

By the time the rally got underway at 11 a.m., McCain campaign officials and Fairfax City police were estimating 23,000 people were packed into Van Dyck Park, making it one of the largest political rallies for a statewide candidate in modern Virginia history.

Some national and Virginia reporters were skeptical of the official crowd estimate, saying they thought it was too high. Nevertheless, the rally likely rivaled or exceeded the estimated 18,000 who attended Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) rally in Virginia Beach a few days before the Feb. 12 primary. An Obama rally in June at Nissan Pavilion in Prince William County attracted about 10,000.

"The Republicans mean business, folks," Scott Surovell, chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, wrote on the party's blog after he saw the size of McCain's rally.

Outside of the rally, about 150 Obama supporters gathered in protest, which sparked a series of heated exchanges between them and McCain supporters. Interviews with both sides reveal stark differences in how Virginians see the two candidates. Here is a sampling of quotes from people interviewed before the rally as well as some of the exchanges that took place between Obama and McCain supporters.

Rose Schulz, 53, of Bristow in Prince William County, and some of her shouted friends, "Obama is a zero, McCain is our hero" as the Obama supporters chanted "Bush, McCain, more of the same."

"I'm here because I believe in the McCain-Palin ticket," Schulz said. "We need a strong military president because of the global circumstances we face and I want honor when we leave Iraq."

Schulz, the wife of a retired navy commander, brought her two sons, age 11 and 12, with her to rally. "I think Bush has been a good president. I think we do need change, but we need to think through what changes," Schulz said, later adding, "I home school the boys and we watched the Republican convention together and that is why my boys are here as well."

Fran Tannenbaum, 54, an Obama supporter from Fairfax, was carrying a sign outside of the entrance to the rally that stated, "I am a hockey mom. A football mom. A soccer mom and I am not a fan of Sarah Palin."

"She doesn't speak for all of us," said Tannenbaum, referring to Palin's comments at the GOP convention about being a hockey mom. "She speaks for very few of us."

Sarah Major, 31, of Fairfax, said she was an Obama supporter - even signed up as one on his website - until last week when she switched to McCain after he selected Palin as his running mate.

"I switched because of Sarah Palin," said Major, who went to college at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks campus. "She has the ideas I support, pro-life, NRA...I kind of felt before that McCain and Obama were the same, but I feel Sarah Palin has the opinions I do."

Laura Brady, 41, of Woodbridge, said she was attending the rally to show her "support for the future strength of America." Based on the thousands who showed for McCain and Palin, Brady is confident they will do well in Fairfax County and ultimately carry Virginia on Nov. 4. "There are more blue collar Democrats in (Northern Virginia) then people think," Brady said. "A lot of them will come out for Obama."

"McCain is the best for our nation and Palin represents the future of our party," Brady said. "They represent the values of our country and they actually tell the truth."

Roy Baldwin, 57, an Obama supporter from Vienna, made a sign that featured pictures McCain, Palin and Bush. "He's entitled to a Fairfax welcome," Baldwin said when he asked why he decided to picket the rally. "He is saying his piece and I'm here to say mine with my sign."

Martina Leinz, another Obama supporter, had sign that said "McCain + Palin = Backward Change."

"I'm here today to protest McCain and Palin because they are a dangerous combination for this country," said Leinz, who lives in Burke. "She is a frightening individual. She opposes abortion even in rape and incest and is an NRA clone."

Leinz, 46, grew visibly upset as she watched the McCain supporters stream towards the rally. "Look at this audience, it's all white and it is just very troubling to me," she said. "I don't think McCain will do well (in Northern Virginia). We have an educated population and we will not believe lies and deceit...All McCain is trying to do is swift boat Obama."

Mary Kitchem, a McCain supporter from Manassas, showed up at the rally in a #13 hockey jersey. At one point, she approached the Obama supporters and started shouting at them, "Obama is a zero. Obama is a zero."

"I think they are very misguided," Kitchem, 63, said later. "I don't think they represent the average American." Kitchem said she believes McCain will build a fence on the border with Mexico to help control illegal immigration. "They don't see programs the way we are looking at them," she said.

She then added, unsolicited, "If McCain were black, I would vote for him in a heartbeat; race has nothing to do with it."

Elizabeth Rainey, 35, of Reston, carried a sign to the rally that read, "God has answered our prayers. Vote McCain and Palin 2008."

"I do believe God has answered our prayers by bringing these two together and they will win the election and the presidency," said Rainey, as some other McCain supporters also waiting in the line began chanting, "Obama, Obama, hey, hey, goodbye."

Nearby, Sylvia Taylor of Manassas was arguing with Kathy Walker, a 45-year-old Obama supporter from Fairfax. Walker was holding a "Healthcare for All" sign.

"Who is going to pay for all this?" Taylor, 59, shouted. "No more spending the money on the war in Iraq," Walker replied.

After the shouting matching died down, Taylor said Palin's views on social issues have energized her to come to rally in support of McCain.

"I do not support homosexuality. I have five sons....And the number one issue is life," Taylor said.

Rosemary Buckley, 86, of Frederick, was so excited for the rally she waited in line more than an hour, even though she needs a cane to stay upright when she walks.

"I'm here to support the best person for the job," Buckley said. "I want to cast my vote." When asked for her views on Obama, she said, "I have nothing to say about him."

Obama supporter Christine Lively, 37, of Fairfax, was holding a sign her daughter made that stated, "Virginia is for O Lovers."

"I'm here to let McCain know he is not welcomed, and to let people know we are going to turn the state blue," Lively said. "My kids are in school, my husband is at work, so I've got to be here."

A few feet away, a man who later identified himself only as Richard began shouting at the Obama supporters, "Muslims for Obama. Muslims for Obama." One Obama supporter then began yelling at a police officer, "He is a racist. He is a racist."

Barb Malinowski, 41, a McCain supporter from Chantilly, made a sign for the rally that stated, "Voters are sick of the liberal media."

"This sign means the liberal media is completely biased and it's so one-sided," said Malinowski, who then asked which newspaper was interviewing her.She then stressed she thinks the media, including the Washington Post, is being unfair to Palin. "I wouldn't be here if Palin was not on the ticket... She is the reason I am here this morning. She is the pro-life candidate. She is conservative."

As Malinowski began moving up in the line, she passed Loudoun County Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R). Delgaudio was stationed at the midway point of the line offering words of encouragement to the McCain and Palin supporters.

"If you are hungry, there are some liberals up there for breakfast," Delgaudio kept repeating to those in line, referring to the noisy protestors.

By Tim Craig  |  September 10, 2008; 11:16 PM ET
Categories:  Tim Craig  
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Comments

I guess Obama was dead wrong. We ARE Red America and Blue America. Neither side can even begin to understand the other’s positions. They’re not even trying. Why not?

I refer to myself half-jokingly as a “devout, card-carrying moderate independent”. I’ve voted Republican and Democrat about half the time. I generally find the most moderate candidate the more attractive. I thought Bush I was a better president than Reagan. I thought Bush II sounded good in 2000 (especially after the Clinton soap opera), but it didn’t turn out that way at all. I generally vote to “throw the bums out” after 8 years in office (exception: 1988), so I guess I was leaning Democratic this year. But McCain may be the most attractive Republican candidate in my lifetime. I’ve long respected his candor and principled positions. He is not “McSame”. I also find Obama to be thoughtful and principled, and also very inspiring. I was looking forward to deciding between two excellent candidates.

That sure isn’t happening. Both sides are at fault. It’s as if policies and principles are irrelevant. They’re both twisting words and former votes totally out of context. And when one side does talk about policies, the other side tries to make it into a character flaw. Ugh!

On balance, I have to mostly blame the McCain camp for this. I say that with reluctance, because that is so uncharacteristic of the man. I use “FactCheck.org” as my reliably non-partisan b.s. detector, and in the last couple weeks the McCain camp has seemingly stopped telling the truth about almost anything. It’s getting silly (e.g., the “pig” Obama was talking about was McCain’s policies and positions, and most decidedly not Ms. Palin – c’mon). The McCain folks are now even mis-quoting FactCheck.org. Arrrrgh! The true John McCain is so much better than that - I just don’t understand it.

Palin is a very attractive politician, and a savvy choice by McCain. But she’s a sideshow. The media and blogs are poking so heavily into her personal life because there’s very little known about her positions on national issues. We’ll start to see some more legitimate dissection of her once she starts to open herself up to questions. She’s a sharp lady; I bet she’ll do well.

But shouldn’t we be focusing on McCain and Obama, and their general principles and specific policy proposals, and not their VPs? Won’t the campaigns let us do that?

Posted by: G Zim | September 11, 2008 5:49 AM | Report abuse

As am outsider, a foreigner who has been following this 2008 election race with a mixture of excitement and foreboding...I shudder to think that Americans can once again be fooled into voting based on small inconsequential issues yet their country is slipping further and further into and ever deepening pit of budget deficits, foreclosures, joblessness, recession and increasingly tarred foreign relations. Are you Americans really that DUMB??? Well you did give your votes to GWB in 2004....but PLEASE???? Havent you learnt even the tiniest bit about how to make decisions critically and in your interests? Have you become that DUMBED DOWN?....You know its amazing....I come from an African country and my salary is about 15000usd anually....I get to keep only 10,000 after the taxes....but you see..out here the reality of taxes is more like that of the sun coming up in the morning....We realise that in order to get ourselves out of the pit of foreign debt...(from worldbank and the like) we have to chip in and pay some and often its alot.When you are in debt...you pay additional taxes....Hello??? does that make sense anyone???
I have absolutely no right to post on this blog and comment about American voter issues but it just blows my mind to think that you guys are willing to hand this election over to the same guys who have screwed up your country for the past 8 years.....where is your anger? Where is your indignation? For the life of me...I cant fathom the scenario of America having an additional four years of Republican rule....Some thing struck me as ODD I recall Mccain making a promise that " We are Really going to work for you......" WHAT?? After 8 years of failed policies...now they are ready to work for their people??? Who have they been working for...Oil people???? I have realised one thing we in the developing world have in common with America during elections....OUR DICTATOR PRESIDENTS VIOLET OUR RIGHTS BY RIGGING AND VIOLENCE...YOUR LEADERS VIOLET YOUR THINKING PROCESSES! I apologise if I have gone to far in this commentary and if I have hurt anyone's sensibilities....but like I said...I am baffled...flabbergasted! Shocked!! Appalled?! God Bless America! May you have the wisdom and courage to chose the right person for POTUS2008!

Posted by: sue | September 11, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Hey Sue, I realize you think we are all stupid and dumb over here, but it may have been a bit more appropriate to call us stupid, dumb, etc. tomorrow. Today we are all 1 and for the most part, politics is not on anyones mind. So please come back tomorrow and lecture us. Thank you.

Posted by: Jon | September 11, 2008 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I completely support Sue, and seeing as this is the United States and we still have some marginal freedoms (such as freedom of speech and a free press), she can post something when she gets a chance to. She's not running into a memorial service and shouting, she's quietly posting on a website. And as for the stupid & dumb - we'll know for sure on Nov. 5th whether the majority of Americans are stupid and dumb. If we wake up on Nov. 5th to the glorious new day of an Obama presidency, then we'll know the majority of Americans were NOT dumb after all. Sue, join your local Obama HQ and volunteer - even if you can't vote you can help out! Obama '08!!

Posted by: Honora Price | September 11, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

G Zim - in general, I agree with you; it is better to focus on issues and positions, but you're not going to find that in the crowds outside a rally, no matter how high-minded the campaigns are. However, the VP choice is not inconsequential -- it is the only major decision about how a candidate's presidency will operate that they make before they are elected, and thus can tell us a lot about their judgment and decision-making.

Of course electoral considerations always enter into it, and there's nothing wrong with that. But if a VP is chosen purely for political purposes, rather than having those reasons guide the choice among highly qualified individuals, that tells you something about the candidate balances political considerations against the good of the country. Similarly, a "gut" choice made after little investigation resulting in a scandal-plagued politician for VP gives an indication of how major decisions may be made in a president's administration.

Policies and positions are important, but judgment and temperament are as well.

Posted by: Redshift | September 11, 2008 12:08 PM | Report abuse

The first poster may be correct. We are a very divided nation, but believe it or not, Dems, John McCain will be more helpful than uniting the country than Barack Obama. McCain is NOT McSame, or McBush, or whatever you folks are calling him. McCain has a track record of working with Democrats -- i.e. Russ Feingold and McCain Feingold which has been the bane of conservatives in my party. I'm a very strong conservative Republican but fully recognize that some of the attacks from my side on Dems, their patriotism etc have polarized the country. I think McCain if he is elected will try very hard to reject this harsh polarizing rhetoric that divides us. If he doesn't reject the politics of hate and destruction as president, and keeps going for the wedge issues, we're sunk.

Posted by: Ken Reid | September 11, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

this is a report i read from a local who went to a mccain-palin rally in fairfax, va, yesterday. i really admire him for going there, and actually attempting to hold pleasant conversations with the folks there--i.e., he was open and attempted to connect. and also for writing this very well written, insightful entry about the experience.
http://coolbeans56.livejournal.com/466327.html

additional pics here: http://coolbeans56.livejournal.com/466662.html

Posted by: sp | September 11, 2008 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Ken Reid--McCain has shown by his first Exec decision --picking Palin-- that he does not intend to unite the country and reject the politics of hate and destruction.

Posted by: sp | September 11, 2008 8:08 PM | Report abuse

What's the matter with Fairfax? I understand that conservative voters are excited by Palin's style, but don't they want healthcare, financial assistance for college, a substantial middle-class tax cut, and respect from abroad? To get those things you have to vote for Obama. I hope undecideds can look past the style to the substnce of what the candidates are offering.

Posted by: MP- Alexandria | September 12, 2008 1:32 PM | Report abuse

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