A Big GOP Rally But a Divided Electorate
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.
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