In U.S. campaign, race is an issue - but not for me

Tue Oct 14, 2008 1:22pm EDT
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By Andrea Hopkins

CINCINNATI (Reuters) - With the economy in crisis, voter after voter in the U.S. heartland says race is not a factor in their choice for president. But everyone, it seems, knows someone else who will base their vote on skin color.

"It doesn't matter to me ... but my husband wouldn't have voted for a black man," confided retired factory worker Myrtle Campbell, 67, as she waited to get into a rally for Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in central Ohio.

Fifty miles to the south in St. Bernard, Ohio, assistant high school principal John Estep assured a door-to-door canvasser that he'd vote for Democrat Barack Obama in the November 4 presidential election. But he won't put up an Obama lawn sign to show his support.

"People would egg my house," said Estep, 59. "I've had people say to me, 'You would want a black president?' I say I want a good president."

While the issue of race has mostly been an undercurrent in the contest between Republican John McCain and Democrat Obama, concerns about racism have risen as Obama pulls ahead in polls and Americans realize they may be on the brink of electing the nation's first black president.

McCain, an Arizona senator, spoke up on the weekend to defend Illinois Sen. Obama as a "decent family man" after supporters at rallies called Obama an Arab, a Muslim, a traitor or terrorist -- inaccurate descriptions that some critics see as coded attacks on his race.

Ohio's Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, tackled the issue head-on as he crisscrossed the state with Obama in recent days, calling the discomfort felt by some working-class whites with a electing a black president the "elephant in the room."

Strickland, who grew up in predominantly white rural Appalachia, told voters he understood that many of them did not have friends or neighbors who were black. But he believes pocketbook concerns will outweigh racial worries in November.   Continued...

<p>Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama is silhouetted as he waves to supporters in Oregon, Ohio October 12, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young</p>