Cover Story

America spoke

"America spoke" Continued...

Issue: "Obama," Nov. 15, 2008

Voters in Arizona, California, and Florida passed ballot measures to ban gay marriage in their states. Obama said he opposes such measures, but a significant bloc of his supporters disagreed: A Florida poll reported that 65 percent of black voters said they would vote for the ban. In California, the support was even higher: Exit polls showed 70 percent of black voters supported the measure. A majority of Latino voters also supported it, while white support was split.

Opponents of the ban appealed to black voters to oppose the measure, and framed the initiatives as a civil-rights issue. Ron Buckmire of the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, a homosexual advocacy group in Los Angeles, told The New York Times: "We're saying, 'Gay people are black people and black people are gay. And if you are voting conservative on an anti-gay ballot measure, you are hurting the gay community.'"

Conservative groups, arguing the opposite, poured millions of dollars into the California campaign. The conservative Florida Family Policy Council recruited black pastors to support the Florida measure. Sharon Austin, an associate professor at the University of Florida, told the Florida Times-Union that civil-rights comparisons don't always resonate with blacks: "A lot of people resent that comparison because they don't think it's the same."

Anthony Bradley, an assistant professor of apologetics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis (and a WORLD correspondent), says his fellow African-Americans often have a social conservatism that comes from the black church influence. But while blacks may support a ballot measure for something like traditional marriage, Bradley says that doesn't usually translate into political activism for conservative candidates.

Bradley says African-Americans expect pastors to address moral issues and politicians to address political issues: "In the black church there's never been a sense that we need to find a political solution to a moral or social problem."

White evangelicals seeking to build coalitions with black evangelicals need to begin with that understanding, he says, and make a case for why issues like abortion and marriage matter politically as well as socially. White evangelical leaders should also include more black leaders in the discussion, Bradley says: "This will challenge more black pastors to rethink their positions."

As Republicans and conservatives begin to rethink strategy in the light of an Obama victory, Rodriguez says reaching out to other groups is key: "You have to broaden the tent-not compromise our values, but put some color into the evangelical movement. If not, it's going to be a rough road ahead."

-with reporting by Emily Belz in Washington and Alisa Harris in New York

Ms. Right

Despite controversy, Palin remains GOP hopeful for many.

By Jamie Dean

RALEIGH, N.C.-Seven hours before Gov. Sarah Palin took the stage for a pre-election event at the Exposition Center in Raleigh, N.C., Diane Byrd was already in line. Dressed in a full-length Uncle Sam suit, and covered with McCain-Palin buttons, Byrd explained why she waited all day to see the vice presidential candidate: "She's brought an enthusiasm back to the Republican Party that has been gone since Reagan. And no matter how this election turns out, that won't go away."

Four days later, the Alaska governor returned to her home state after conceding defeat with Sen. John McCain. But enthusiasm for the Republican was still fresh: Scores of supporters greeted Palin at the Anchorage airport with chants of "2012!" When reporters on the icy tarmac asked the governor if she would consider a run for the presidency in four years, Palin demurred: "We'll see what happens then."

Darrell Ellison already hopes Palin will run: "I'd love to see her in the White House." The factory worker from Raleigh said he didn't plan to vote for McCain until he put Palin on the ticket. "She's real, and she's a conservative," Ellison said at the North Carolina rally. "She's Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher combined."

Women supporting Palin expressed a personal affinity with the governor: Lulane Chasteen, a special-needs teacher from Raleigh, said: "She says the things I want to say." Joann Landry, a native Alaskan, said: "When people see Sarah, they understand me." Sharon Bogler, a mother of two from Concord, N.C., wore a "Palin-Rice: 2012" T-shirt and said: "She's every woman who has a job and kids and manages a budget. Every woman here is Sarah Palin. I'm Sarah Palin."

That kind of enthusiasm met Palin at other events, despite downplayed media coverage: At Elon University near Greensboro, N.C., local police estimated Palin drew a crowd of 15,000. The local paper reported 2,000 at the event. On a trip to The Villages, a retirement community north of Orlando, Fox News reported Palin drew 60,000 people, but the event garnered scant national attention.

At the Raleigh event, fire marshals estimated the crowd at 7,000, with thousands left waiting outside when the Exposition Center was full. The local paper reported 5,000 at the event, and didn't mention the snaking line outside after the doors closed.

While media outlets alternately ignored and scorned Palin, some conservatives derided the governor as well: Conservative columnists for National Review, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post questioned McCain's judgment in picking Palin. CNN reported that McCain campaign aides anonymously complained about Palin as well.

The coverage frustrated Landry, the native Alaskan at the North Carolina rally. Landry blasted the media, but also criticized the McCain campaign for not using Palin more aggressively to attract conservative crowds hungry for her blue-collar message of lower taxes and smaller government.

It's that message-combined with social conservatism-that may make Palin a player in the GOP future, according to Bill Whalen at the Hoover Institution. "Conservatives are looking for Mr. Right," Whalen told the Associated Press. "And maybe Mr. Right turns out to be Ms. Right."

Dave Woodard, a GOP analyst and political science professor at Clemson University, told WORLD that Palin would need to cultivate a deeper understanding of a broader range of policy issues to mount a serious bid for the top spot on the ticket in 2012. And she must find a way to reach moderates and independents that helped sway the election for Obama.

Pollster Frank Luntz agreed, telling The Wall Street Journal: "She's a star among conservatives, but the crucial independent voter has a different perspective, and the lesson for the GOP is if you lose the center, you lose America."

Either way, Joseph Matthews, a UPS worker from Cary, N.C., said he's already sold on Palin. When asked about the governor's political future, a wide grin spread across his bearded face: "I'd vote for her for president."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD.

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