Dems try to lure Mesa County over to Obama’s side
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado
GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado – Three men stood near the doorway recalling how Barack Obama showed up in their town just the day before in front of 5,800 supporters and what his visit meant for Democrats here.
They were excited. They were pumped. They were enthusiastic – reciting lines from the speech and talking political strategy.
Then the telephone rang.
Rick Baer ambled over to the green phone at the front desk of the Mesa County Democrats office and answered it.
He didn’t say much and the call lasted less than a minute. Baer, a 63-year-old retired electrician and campaign volunteer, hung up, walked back to his spot and leaned back against the wall without saying a word. After a few seconds of blank stares, the two men finally asked him who it was.
“It was a woman telling me that God told her John McCain and Sarah Palin were going to win the election,” Baer said. “Seriously.”
The three men looked at each other and, after a brief pause, chuckled.
“Well, I guess there’s no point in voting,” Alex Sidanycz said. “If that’s what God said.”
With that, the men went back to talking about how Obama and Democrats this November would be competitive in Mesa County – a notion that, not too long ago, would’ve been heresy.
In 2004, John Kerry got hammered by George Bush in Mesa County by a ratio of more than 2-to-1.
And the voter registration totals in 2008 reflect an overwhelming advantage for Republicans.
Which is why Judy Miller said she remembers not even bringing up politics with her neighbors. The 66-year-old retired educator said that, if she did, it wouldn’t usually end well.
“This isn’t a hotbed of liberalism,” she said. “You just don’t wear it on your sleeve.”
But with Obama’s visit and the campaign’s opening of nine offices on the Western Slope, making your preference known isn’t as risky anymore.
Around town, there are signs dotting lawns in support of Obama and there are three Democratic offices in Grand Junction – the state party’s office, oddly enough, is housed in a now-defunct tax preparation business. The Obama Campaign office isn’t far from Main Street and the Mesa County Democrats office is a short car ride away.
But just in case Democrats thought they could get comfortable, the Obama campaign office noticed McCain signs being plastered all over it.
“Our friendly neighbor,” a staffer in the office joked.
Not taken for granted
The Republicans certainly aren’t ready to cede the region to Democrats and there isn’t evidence to show that Republicans will have a poor showing.
When Obama spoke, McCain supporters lined up across the road from the Cross Orchards Historic Site and waved signs opposing Obama and as cars parked along curbs of the neighborhood’s narrow streets, one man silently planted McCain signs in his yard before disappearing into his house.
And at the Mesa County Republicans – which is also acting as a McCain office – there was a waiting list of almost a 150 people wanting McCain-Palin yard signs.
Ron Samuelson, who showed up at the office for more signs, said he already had lined his property with McCain-Palin signs but wanted to get more so he could distribute them to neighbors.
Dressed in a tight-fitting white T-shirt that featured a giant eagle and the words “United We Stand” silk-screened on the front, he said he thought it was important to get the message out in the wake of Obama’s visit and the presence of emboldened Democrats.
“You can’t take it for granted,” he said.
Tom Kise, McCain’s spokesman, said they are confident about doing well in Mesa County because it’s considered a rural, small town that plays against Obama’s message.
“His campaigns repeated mocking and degrading comments towards small towns and rural America will not sit well with Mesa county voters come Election Day,” Kise said. “His message of raising taxes on people who make $42,000 a year, of banning handguns, and opposition to exploring for new sources of domestic energy will not fly in Mesa County or the rest of Colorado – that dog just won’t hunt.”
Sen. Ken Salazar disagreed, saying that Obama “has been a champion of our cause to revitalize rural America.”
With Obama’s visit to Grand Junction, it is clear the state has taken on enormous significance for the general election. Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe this week called it “ground zero for the presidential campaign.”
Kise also said the Western Slope is vital and that the region undoubtedly can expect a visit from either McCain or Palin before Election Day.
Matt Chandler, an Obama spokesman, said they have been shipping in Democratic volunteers from neighboring Utah to help canvass neighborhoods and aid the campaign with getting people out to vote.
Republicans, such as volunteer John McClure, have been energized by Palin and are also running phone banks and canvasing neighborhoods.
Out of lawn signs
For now, enthusiasm is so great that both campaigns are out of lawn signs.
When Robert Kettle, a 56- year-old small-business owner, came into the Mesa County Democrats office the day after Obama’s speech looking for some lawn signs, he shook his head when he was told they were out.
A sign on the wall told people signs were on the way – though Baer said that the sign had been up since before the Democratic National Convention.
Kettle, who said he’d never put up a lawn sign before in his life, was a little disheartened. With no signs to be had at any of the offices, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
“I guess I’ll have to make my own,” he said. “We need to show our support this time or people in the neighborhood just assume you’re for the other guy.”
If he’d waited, Obama yard signs arrived Thursday. But by Friday, they were gone again. The McCain campaign fared no better. They were still taking names for the waiting list.
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