What happened in Montco?
Barack Obama carried the lawn signs I pass on the way to the dog park in Cheltenham, by a 5 to 0 margin. But he failed to win the county that’s so rich in the sort of well-schooled and well-heeled voters who had pulled for him around the country.
“I voted for Hillary,” said the first person I ran into, Shelley Goodman, a 53-year-old psychologist walking her coonhound, Blue.
“I don’t think this country is ready for a black President.” This again.
Goodman has adopted or fostered a household of mixed-race children, and so she is speaking from a giant heart.
“In this country you are not half-black,” she went on. “If you are any black, you are all black. We have a very skewed view in the East Coast. We think everyone thinks as open-mindedly as we do.”
Like many voters who went for Clinton in this sprawling, fast-growing county, Goodman didn’t make up her mind until primary day. Her daughter, a Hillary supporter, had stayed over. At breakfast Goodman gave the young woman five minutes to make a case for her candidate, and Goodman came away swayed by the argument that Clinton is moderate enough to win, and good at getting things done.
A vote for Obama, Goodman concluded, was a vote for someone who could not win in November. “People want to vote for a winner.”
I found a balance of opinions at a home in Melrose Park, where twin signs sprout from the front yard, one for Hillary, one for Obama.
Inside, Linda Riley and her husband, Carl Rotenberg, sat in separate armchairs, parsing the results. Riley, the Obama supporter, relayed a recent conversation with a Jewish woman at the Philadelphia Council for the Aging. “She was concerned Obama would not protect Israel,” said Riley, 57. “I don’t know what he could do to assuage that concern, as he has said he would support Israel, is a friend of Israel. I guess it is not enough.”
Rotenberg, 55, is the Clinton supporter — moved, he said, by a lifetime supporting feminism. “I’m very liberal,” he began, “but I still feel the fact Obama is black is a \[political\] negative in the country and could be in Montgomery County, too. I hate to say it, because it’s saying a Democratic candidate has a weakness, but it’s that he’s black.”
Across the county, the Obama for President office on Lancaster Avenue in Wynnewood stood empty yesterday morning. A sign on the door announced a noon clean-up and said, hopefully, “Congratulations.”
I reached Art Matusow by phone. He ran cancassing for Obama in Lower Merion and Narberth. Matusow said he’d been asking his door-knockers whether they’d seen support soften since Obama was hammered for calling some Pennsylvanians “bitter,” for not wearing a flag on his lapel and for the incendiary comments of his former pastor.
Matusow talked of two counties, the progressive inner suburbs like Cheltenham and Lower Merion, and the more rural and blue-collar places farther from the city.
He heard nothing, he said, to suggest voters were wary of Obama’s race, but said some people did come into his office concerned about Israel’s safety. The campaign had armed workers with pamphlets to try to quell the fears. “It is an area where Israel matters,” Matusow said, “so I’m not going to say it is a non-issue.”
A few blocks away, at Delancey Street Bagels, Elaine Hall, 68, was having breakfast with her two young grandchildren. When I asked her about the election, she sighed.
Hall, a woman of color, said softly that she voted for Obama not because he is black but because she is young, and we need young now. Ah, a fellow optimist.
“What frightens me most,” she said, “is November. I wonder how much criticism of Obama is really coming from John McCain’s organization. We need to be talking about the real deal — that’s health care, the war, the rising cost of food and transportation. So this has been a real letdown.”