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Keep Virginia Red

October 23, 2008

Woodbridge, VA – Lodged in a non-descript strip-mall in suburban Virginia, L & B Pizzeria and Sports Bar was in full capacity on Wednesday night prior to the final presidential debate between candidates John McCain and Barack Obama. By 8 P.M., as other businesses were closing down L & B remained the only speck of light overlooking an otherwise deserted parking lot.

The Republican Committee of Prince William County was having a watch party for the last Presidential debate between the two candidates and, from early on, republican supporters from the neighborhood flocked to this Italian-American pizzeria. They bought memorabilia from the McCain/Palin campaign and took their seats at one of the light wooden booths; blue and red balloons reached up to the ceiling.

KeepVirginiaRed (2)

Republican Supporters Celebrate Sarah Palin

The nearly 50-odd people aged fifty and above, were on a mission — cheering on the GOP Presidential hopeful to the slogan: “Keep Virginia Red.” Prince William County went for President George W. Bush in 2004 — fifty-three percent to forty-five percent — over Democratic candidate John Kerry. However this year, together with Loudon County, Prince William is one of few key districts in play, which could help the Democrats carry this unexpected swing state.

Despite the most recent polls, which give Senator Obama a distinct lead both at the national and state levels, Sen. McCain supporters at L & B projected a positive attitude: “I think that there will be a surge; people will wise-up and understand that John McCain is the right man,” said Mike Graumann, a fifty-three year-old construction worker married to a computer analyst and a father of two. Mr. Graumann sat with his friend Joe Mazzoccoli, a sixty-three year-old retired hairstylist of Italian descent. Mr. Mazzoccoli is married to an accountant and has eleven grown children and eleven grandchildren.

With Fox News playing in the background, the two friends discussed their biggest fear — the arrival of socialism in the U.S. “Obama wants to spread wealth from the bottom-up,” Mr. Mazzoccoli argued animatedly. “They’ve tried it before, in Cuba, the Soviet Union and then Jimmy Carter. Socialism is the first step and then there is communism. It never worked,” he declared.

Mr. Graumann is concerned that, if Obama is elected President, the economic crisis will keep worsening. Along with most Republicans, he believes that the roots of the current downturn are to be found not in the last eight years of the Bush Administration, but further back in the last few months of the Clinton Presidency. “Bush only came in at the wrong time, but the problems began earlier on,” Mr. Graumann claimed. “The first six-years under President Bush were very good from an economic standpoint,” Mr. Mazzoccoli echoed him, “then we began feeling the effects of the reckless low-income lending that was forced by Bill Clinton onto Fannie Mac and Freddie Mae.” According to them, it was the Democrats’ attempt to increase homeownership rates and help low-income earners to buy properties by means of subprime mortgages that triggered the excessive number of defaults and, as a result, unleashed the worst of the credit crunch.

Although both Mr. Graumann and Mr. Mazzoccoli acknowledge that the Bush Administration failed to take steps that could have mitigated the extent of the crisis, they excuse this failure with a national security argument: “Republicans made mistakes, but Bush had to defend our country, that was more important,” Mr. Mazzoccoli said. “We can’t let these people come in, bomb our buildings, kill 3,000 people and not go after them,” he stated. “Freedom is not free,” Mr. Mazzoccoli concluded before turning to the debate.

Sitting a few tables away, Anne Palmadesso, a senior resident of Woodbridge, was also getting ready to watch the face-off. She expected Senator McCain “to step up to the plate,” and to tackle issues of character and personality right from the start. “Character is very important,” self-employed Ms. Palmadesso argued, “Because, as President, they will act upon who they are.” She does not trust Barack Obama and thinks the Senator from Illinois is not clear on the direction in which he wants to take the country. Despite being worried about the fiscal policies of the Democrats and about “Obama’s socialist tendencies,” Ms. Palmadesso is one of those conservatives who vote primarily on the issue of abortion. “I’m rabidly pro-life,” Ms. Palmadesso declared.

Pro-life values are also Lori Bower’s motivation in voting for candidates. The director of a private child-care center in Fredericksburg and a forty-six year-old mother of four, Mrs. Bowers brought the entire family to L & B to celebrate the twelfth birthday of her youngest daughter while watching the debate.

Sitting next to her husband of fourteen years, also employed in the field of education, Mrs. Bower was attending her motherly duties by going through the proofs of her eighteen year-old son’s senior pictures. He will graduate from high school in the spring and join the Coast Guard. Mrs. Bower, who voted for President Bush both in ’00 and in ’04, said she was swayed toward the Republican ticket only late in the game, when Sarah Palin was selected as John McCain’s running mate at the end of August. “I really want to see a woman in office,” Mrs. Bower argued, “and Sarah is a young, fresh face who shares my values.”

Beyond adhering to a socially conservative worldview, it was hard to gauge exactly where Mrs. Bower stood on policies. She completely disapproved of the way President Bush handled the war in Iraq: “He went in with a mission of finishing his father’s job, independent of the situation on the ground. It’s time for him to go.” While hoping for a quick, but orderly, withdrawal of US troops from the Gulf, rapid enough so that her son will not have to be deployed, Mrs. Bower trusts John McCain more than she does Barack Obama, whose plan of withdrawal “does not outweigh McCain’s experience.” Explaining her distrust of Senator Obama, Mrs. Bower also made vague references to unfounded rumors that have been circulating in recent months about Sen. Obama’s supposed desire to be sworn into office on the Koran instead of the Bible.

Finally, Mrs. Bower pointed to the economy as her most pressing concern: “I know so many people whose homes have gone into foreclosures,” she said, “and my own paycheck has been held back a couple of times already because parents are not enrolling their children in my school anymore and we are short of funds.” However, Mrs. Bower didn’t appear to have a clear idea of exactly what policies she would want the next President to implement.

During the debate, the patrons at L & B Pizzeria reacted more passionately to exchanges on fiscal policy; they cheered Sen. McCain the loudest when he attacked Sen. Obama on wealth redistribution and government spending. The pro-life crowd made itself heard when John McCain pushed his anti-abortion agenda.

By the end of the face-off, the republicans gathered here seemed pleased with Sen. McCain’s performance: “I think the debate went very well, much better than the previous ones. Obama was on the defensive for most of it” judged Mike Graumann.

The GOP Presidential hopeful also met the expectations of Anne Palmadesso, who thought he had been forceful and upfront throughout the discussion. Joe Mazzoccoli joked: “I think Joe the plumber won it.” He also added that he was glad Sen. McCain had brought up the issue of Sen. Obama’s relation to Bill Ayers (a former member of the 1960s radical movement Weather Underground who is now a Professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago. A few years ago, Mr. Ayers sat on the board of the same non-profit organization as Barack Obama and Republicans have been trying to highlight this connection as a way to draw suspicions on the character of the Illinois Senator).

“McCain offered a lot of substance,” argued David Hahn, “he did a good job defending allegations made by Obama and attacking Obama’s policies.” Mr. Hahn, a property manager and small business owner with two children in college, has seen the value of his home decline by $300,000 in the last couple of years and he says he is mostly concerned about the economy.

He also attributes the roots of the crisis to the Clinton Administration and the subprime mortgages disaster. Mr. Hahn is wary of Obama’s proposed fiscal policies and believes that a Democratic Administration would raise taxes on people like himself: “I already pay enough taxes,” he avowed.

Despite being a life-long Republican, Mr. Hahn conceded that Sen. Obama also did a good job during the debate: “He is an eloquent speaker who speaks from the heart.” However, and offering an argument that, at least on the surface, might seem contradictory, Mr. Hahn claimed that forty-six year-old Barack Obama is too focused on the past, while seventy-two year-old John McCain is the candidate of the future: “The wind-chill is bigger than the rear-view mirror for a reason; you have to look ahead,” Mr. Hahn concluded.

Originally reported and written for Washington Prism

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