Monday, October 27, 2008
Locally, race is an issue in upcoming election
Rep. Cory Mason talks candidly about race.
Mason, a Democrat from Racine, has been campaigning door-to-door for Barack Obama this fall. Many older voters he talks to, he said, are having a hard time coming to terms with voting for an African-American.
“Some voters just say they can’t imagine," said Mason, who is running uncontested for Assembly. "They say, 'I just simply won't vote for a black.'"
Some people are more hostile and use stronger language, he added.
Mason, who is white, says people who have a problem with Obama's race tend to be in their 70s and 80s. “For them it’s a radical departure in their worldview to have an African-American being president,” he said.
Mason was among the first in Madison to come out and support Obama, and spends a great deal of time in Obama’s Racine office working for his election.
While there are racist voters, there are also new voters excited about the possibility of an African-American president. They're volunteering, learning about the issues and voting early.
“He (Obama) really is a different candidate, his ability to bring new people in,” Mason said. “We just have to hope that it’s enough new people to counter act the folks that that can’t imagine voting for a black man.”
Craig Oliver, a local political strategist, suggests racial prejudice is not just a Republican thing. For example, he said, local unions declined to support Theresa Cotton-Kendrick, a highly qualified African-American. Cotton-Kendrick is legislative secretary for the Racine County Board of Supervisors and a County employee for over 24 years.
“I believe the race factor is obvious in both campaigns (Obama's and Cotton-Kendrick's), and I believe it is a reflection of the racial divide and not the underlining, but the overt racism that exists in Racine county and the City of Racine,” Oliver said.
In spite of the obstacles his candidate faces, he feels strongly Cotton-Kendrick and Obama will see victory on Election Day.
Oliver notes Cotton-Kendrick’s chances of winning the clerk’s position are greater being a presidential election year. “Her experience coupled with Obama’s campaign will bring in new voters, which will boost Theresa’s opportunity immensely,” explained Oliver.
Local observers feel Obama, and the tendency of Democrats to vote a straight ticket, could help Cotton-Kendrick win. In the 2004 election, 25,304 residents voted straight Democrat compared to 23,749 voting straight Republican.
Efforts to encourage minority residents to get registered and vote early could also offset racial prejudice. Over 4,000 city residents have voted early, and another 2,000 voters have been sent absentee ballots.
Tony Simmons, 47, is disabled and had not voted since the last presidential election. “I voted for Kerry, but they stole that election and I hope it does not happen this time for Obama.”
He says Obama is talking about the issues and what people want to hear. “McCain is talking about the past, we think about the future,” he said. “The price of groceries is going up and people are living month-to-month, week-by-week, trying to make ends meat, and they want to see a change.”