Election 2008; The Way Scranton Swings

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[Election 2008: A Swing State]

Robert Ennis is a 35-year-old unemployed cook who has an interesting take on race relations in light of his voting plans.

It’s a Friday night and Ennis is sitting alone at the Veteran of Foreign Wars bar in Clarks-Summit, Pennsylvania. The hands that grip his beer have the words “LOST” tattooed on four right fingers, and “SOUL” tattooed on four left fingers.

Ennis, who has served two tours in the Mediterranean with the U.S. Navy, says he’s openly “anti-Black.” That’s the reason he hasn’t spoken to his sister in over three years, ever since she married a Black colleague of hers in the Air Force, he says. He says he loves his sister who lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and children. He just can’t accept her choice.

"All my life I've been anti-Black. I'm not racist, but I'm prejudiced," Ennis says. "I'm not saying whites are bad, or Blacks are bad, but you stick with your color. I believe what I believe," he says.

For the first time in his life, Ennis will vote in a presidential election. Judging by his comments, one would lose a tidy sum by taking a wager on whom Ennis intends to vote for come Tuesday.

“I want Obama in the White House, and I want him to thrive,” he declares.

Ennis says Obama has shown character, by taking time off from campaigning last Thursday and Friday to visit with his ailing grandmother. Moreover, he also sides with Obama’s opposition to the Iraq war.

Yet, Ennis concedes that there is also a more personal issue at stake. “It’s a way of me reconciling with her,” he says, referring to his relations with his sister.
Here in places like Scranton, Pennsylvania and its surrounding suburbs, voting is very personal. It’s based on issues related to faith, on the right to bear arms, and yes, on race matters. Political views here are so diverse that it’s difficult to ascertain which way this town is swinging based on numerous interviews conducted with the townsfolk.

The most recent polls show Pennsylvania leaning towards Senator Barack Obama, the Democrat of Illinois; he enjoys as much as a 10-point advantage in an average of several national polls. Yet his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, has pumped his dwindling resources into the state in recent weeks. This week he even vowed he’d pull off an upset victory, in an interview on “Meet The Press.”

His Republican vice-presidential running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, spoke at a rally in Lancaster County recently, while McCain’s wife Cindy, and Louisiana’s first lady Supriya Jindal, made campaign appearances in Bucks County and Philadelphia a few days ago.

In Scranton, some residents who indicate a preference for the Democratic ticket are in a quandary; the Catholic Bishop, Joseph Martino, has encouraged voters to support a pro-life candidate.

“You can have the best health-care system, the best economic system, the best views on foreign health-care,” notes Theresa Hanntz, president of Students for Life, at the University of Scranton and a registered Republican who voted early for McCain, “But,” she adds, “it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have a candidate that values the inherent dignity of human life.”

Hanntz lives with seven other students on campus that are mostly undecided; they seem to be debating the issues. One has a boyfriend who recently joined the Army as a way to pay for his college tuition; another housemate is worried about how the war in Iraq will end.

Three of her housemates, are weighing the impact of each presidential candidate’s health plan. Another housemate, a teacher, is worried about the future of American education.

While many people say they plan to vote for McCain, in interviews, the majority say they expect an Obama victory.

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