Rowan goes with McCain over Obama
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 5, 2008
By Mark Wineka and Hugh Fisher
Rowan County supporters for Democrat Barack Obama didn’t win their battle, but they know they won the war.
“It’s indescribably delicious,” Patricia Howell of East Spencer said Tuesday night as it became apparent that Obama was going to win the U.S. presidential election.
She called her feeling about an Obama win “utter exhilaration.”
While Obama scored the national victory, he trailed Republican John McCain in Rowan County by a rather large margin.
McCain captured 37,284, or 60.85 percent of the Rowan vote, compared to 23,272 votes for Obama, or 37.98 percent. Rowan County has not favored a Democrat in a presidential race since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
A large crowd of Obama supporters, many of whom worked all day at the polls, celebrated the emotional victory at the Artworks gallery in Salisbury.
As MSNBC called the race for Obama, the downstairs hall became deafening with chants of “Yes we can!” and cheers.
The 2-to-1 electoral vote margin wasn’t enough for everyone present.
“I still want Florida and North Carolina to turn blue,” said John Cox of Salisbury, hoping the states would join the majority of “blue states” in voting for Obama.
“I feel privileged that I stood out at the polls today,” said Cox, a Democratic volunteer.
African-Americans and caucasians stood side by side, some with tears in their eyes.
“I’m feeling amazement, excitement,” said Tonya Cross of Salisbury.
“Just to see this happen, especially for my mother who grew up during segregation, to see this happen during her lifetime is exciting,” Cross said.
Eva Jackson-Knight of Salisbury echoed the sentiment, saying she never thought she’d live to see an African-American president.
“I’m excited beyond belief,” she said.
She watched the returns with friend Tommy Walker, also of Salisbury.
Walker said he was overcome by emotion.
“I’ve seen so many people crying. I’m usually a hard rock, but I couldn’t help it. Tears came to my eyes,” Walker said.
The roomful of people shook hands, hugged and snapped pictures as the projection-screen showed Obama take a 2-to-1 lead in electoral votes.
The cheers became deafening once more when Sen. John McCain appeared on the screen to give his concession speech.
But the audience applauded respectfully when McCain spoke highly of his opponent, although one remark riled a few in the crowd.
When McCain noted that Obama’s election was of particular note to African-Americans, Honey Monroe of Salisbury was offended.
“I thought that was kind of a racist remark,” Monroe said.
But she said she was pleased with the election’s outcome, calling Obama “the face of the future.”
“Our allies are thrilled,” Monroe said. “We can now become leaders in the world again.”
Emily Perry of Salisbury worked tirelessly for Obama since before the May primary.
She said Obama’s candidacy took the American electorate to a new level, and she predicted, “Elections won’t ever be the same.”
The prospects of an Obama victory Tuesday “brings tears to my eyes,” Perry said.
The election of Obama would be more about a shift than anything else, she said.
“People are taking back this country,” she said. It heartened her that the Obama candidacy brought a diverse group of Americans of all ages and races together.
As it did in the primary, the Obama campaign had a well-organized effort to first register voters, then make sure they got to the polls. The campaign sent in field directors to help, but the real effort came from volunteers who flocked to the candidate.
“It’s been awesome to see how they plan, but people in the community also have to be willing and excited,” Perry said.
She witnessed the growth of many volunteers who surprised themselves in how involved they became, Perry said.
On Election Day, they made telephone calls, drove voters to the polls, provided umbrellas and rain jackets for those standing in line and had things for children to play with while their parents voted.
Perry said “satellite offices” were set up in four different precincts to act as headquarters in the county Tuesday. She manned one in East Spencer.
The campaign also tried to have each of the county’s 40-plus precincts manned with at least one supporter outside the polling location.
“I just know, without a doubt, that Obama is the person,” Perry said.
The Rowan County turnout for a presidential election set records Tuesday in terms of sheer numbers. The county had 61,659 ballots cast and almost a 69 percent voter turnout.
Obama’s support among African-American voters was evident Tuesday in Rowan County.
Of Rowan’s 90,127 registered voters, 14,623 are black, or 16.2 percent.
The precincts with the highest numbers of registered black voters include Salisbury’s West Ward III, which votes at Miller Recreation Center; East Ward, which votes at the Park Avenue Community Center; South Ward, which votes at Salisbury Civic Center; East Spencer; and West Ward II, which votes at the South Main Street fire station.
The West Ward III precinct had 387 people vote for Obama; and only three for McCain. East Spencer, a predominantly black town, had 288 votes for Obama and 13 for McCain.
But McCain had precincts that overwhelmingly favored him, too.
Bradshaw, which votes at the Atwell Fire Department on N.C. 152, favored McCain 725-182 over Obama, for example.
Sarah Drinkard pulled double duty of sorts Tuesday. She stood outside the Rowan Public Library wearing an Obama-Biden sweatshirt while handing out information for the Rowan-Salisbury Association of Educators. She is local president of the educators’ group, which endorsed Obama and other candidates.
Drinkard said she felt as though she were a part of history by participating in the election. Obama will be the most inclusive president, if he wins, she said.
A high school teacher, Drinkard also was “excited about his views on public education, which is my No. 1 cause.”
“I realize the historical importance, because he is African-American,” April Kuhn said Tuesday afternoon while she worked Salisbury’s South Ward precinct. “But his message goes beyond race, which is why it’s such a phenomenal time in (U.S.) history.”
She also was handing out information on the endorsements of the educators’ group and wearing an Obama button. “I love his message of unity,” Kuhn said. “Our country over the last eight years has been greatly divided over a number of issues.”
Another Obama supporter at the South Ward precinct said she liked the Democrat because he was young, energetic and will help improve the economy, the environment and education.
“I’m also ready to get out of Iraq,” said the woman who declined to give her name.
Some McCain supporters greeted an Obama presidency with apprehension.
“I’ll be scared for the country,” Jon Speaks of Rockwell said.
Speaks called Obama a socialist ó “sharing the wealth is total socialism,” he said.
He added that he didn’t like the people Obama associated with and described him as “totally dishonest.” He also didn’t like Obama’s attitude toward people.
“He has his nose up in the air constantly,” Speaks said.
As for McCain, Speaks said, “He’s not President Bush, he’s his own man. He wanted this job for so long for all the right reasons. He spent his life serving this country.”
Teresa Dunn of Salisbury said she supported McCain mainly for military and national security reasons. She has two sons-in-law in the military, one in the Navy and one in the Marines. The men recently returned from stints in Iraq.
“He really is a true American hero, regardless of the outcome,” her husband, Joe Dunn, said.