Friday, November 7, 2008

Tuke didn't lose; Tennessee did

I was a volunteer with the Williamson Country Democratic Party who represented Obama and other Democratic candidates outside a polling location. Our county is among the wealthiest, according to per capita income, in the U.S. and it is overwhelmingly Republican. I was the only Democratic volunteer to work outside the voting location at the Resurrection Episcopal Church. I was the only campaign volunteer. There were no Republicans.

It was an absolutely beautiful day, an Indian Summer day in which a bright blue sky offset the beautiful red and yellow leaves of trees. The trees, mulched by pine straw, lined the drive up to the Church's main entrance which led to the voting location within. I never went inside and stayed well away from the 100 ft. boundary Tennessee law requires for partisan political signs and literature distribution. I carried no Obama sign but wore an Obama T-shirt and a vest with lots of Obama buttons pinned to it and an engineer's cap also bedecked with Obama/Biden campaign pins. I also carried a sign for Bob Tuke who was running for the Senate seat held by Lamar Alexander. I was there 4 hours in all: from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 2 to 4 p.m.

Most voters saw me from their cars as they passed by to park in the closest parking spaces. Most smiled and nodded to me. Some on foot called to me from a distance to comment on the pretty weather. A few gave me the thumbs up or pointed out their Obama signs or bumper stickers.

For the most part my time there was uneventful. But there were some exceptions. After I had been there for about an hour a Sheriff's Department vehicle entered the parking lot and cruised about slowly, then left. One driver yelled John McCain at me as he entered the parking lot. He yelled the same thing at me when he left.

One voter, a woman, brought a poll worker outside after she voted and motioned towards me. When he came towards me I asked, 'Is there a problem.' He assured me that it was part of his job to check the parking lot every hour.

In the afternoon, a woman passing me in her car rolled down her window and said, "I thought political materials were not allowed."

"Within 100 feet," I replied.

"Well," she said, "Since this is a church I won't say 'F--k you,' but go to hell." Then she parked, put her child in a stroller and went in to vote.

After that everything was friendly and non-confrontational. Until...a young woman who had just finished voting approached me holding her daughter (about six, I think) by the hand.

"Can you tell me why you're voting for him?" she asked.

"Well," I began, "I'm not a wealthy person..."

"And you want a hand-out," she said.

"No, but I do think we need a tax structure that's fairer. And I would like to stop giving tax breaks to companies that move jobs overseas."

"And you think he's going to be able to do something about that? He's got no experience..."

"Yes, I think he can do something...I've been impressed with the way he's running this campaign."

She then told me that Obama was a bad person citing his membership in Jeremiah Wright's church and his friendship with Bill Ayers. I pointed out that one or two parts of one or two of Wright's sermons had been endlessly repeated on TV by Obama critics and that he was eight years old when Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground had been active. I also pointed out that Ayers been tried and had not been convicted by a jury and that he was a professor at a university in Chicago when he met Obama. I tried to explain to her that she had some bad information but she said I didn't have enough information about Obama.

Finally, I said, "Then there's the hope. Obama has encouraged me to hope again. And he's encouraged other people to hope, too." She left after that.

When things were slow later that afternoon I took pictures of the trees with their beautiful fall leaves always featuring Bob Tuke's campaign sign. He's a nice man; I saw him speak at an Obama fundraiser and I liked the way he talked about Obama whom he had met briefly. According to a friend of his, Tuke's campaign for the Senate was underfunded but Tuke was more concerned about Obama's success than his own.

Yes, I like Bob Tuke and I like his campaign poster.

But Tuke lost. Tennessee sent the old patrician Lamar Alexander back to the Senate. Obama lost in Tennessee, too, and in several other southern states. But not in all of them. Not in Virginia, and not in North Carolina. More importantly, Obama won the presidential election by a comfortable margin of the popular vote and by a substantial margin of Electoral College votes.

Maybe it's Tennessee and not Bob Tuke that lost this election.

Yes, I think it's Tennessee that lost. Again.