By Kevin Merida Washington Post Staff Writer
The contrast between the large, adoring crowds Obama draws at public events and the gritty street-level work to win votes is stark. The candidate is largely insulated from the mean-spiritedness that some of his foot soldiers deal with away from the media spotlight.
Victoria Switzer, a retired social studies teacher, was on phone-bank duty one night during the Pennsylvania primary campaign. One night was all she could take: "It wasn't pretty." She made 60 calls to prospective voters in Susquehanna County, her home county, which is 98 percent white. The responses were dispiriting. One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn't possibly vote for Obama and concluded: "Hang that darky from a tree!"
"Will there be some folks who probably won't vote for me because I am black? Of course," Obama said, "just like there may be somebody who won't vote for Hillary because she's a woman or wouldn't vote for John Edwards because they don't like his accent. But the question is, 'Can we get a majority of the American people to give us a fair hearing?' "
"No, I want a president that will salute our flag, and put their hand on the Bible when they take the oath of office."
Pollsters have found it difficult to accurately measure racial attitudes, as some voters are unwilling to acknowledge the role that race plays in their thinking. But some are not. Susan Dzimian, a Clinton supporter who owns residential properties, said outside a polling location in Kokomo that race was a factor in how she viewed Obama. "I think if it was somebody other than him, I'd accept it," she said of a black candidate. "If Colin Powell had run, I would be willing to accept him."
At the Bradford Run Apartments, she found Robert Cox, a retiree who spent 30 years working for an electronics manufacturer making computer chips. He was in his suspenders, grilling shish kebab, which he had never eaten. "Something new," Cox said, recommended by his son who was visiting from Colorado.