Economic demise, Democratic boon? |

Economic demise, Democratic boon?

Tamara Miller
photo by Chris Schneider^ Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama shakes hands with voters after speaking at Magness Arena at Denver University on Jan. 30, 2008.

This November, Tim O’Brien may do something he has never done before: vote for a Democrat.

The 50-year-old owner of Shamrock Fine Woodworking in Eagle has voted a straight Republican ticket all his voting life. Now he is ashamed to admit he voted for President George Bush twice.

He’s convinced that the Bush administration’s motive behind the war in Iraq really was to get an American hand on the Middle East’s oil supplies. And all we have to show for it is $4-a-gallon gas, a sluggish economy and a growing national debt, O’Brien says.

“The Republican Party is so entrenched,” he says. “Very well-moneyed guys. They are in it deep.”

Historically, the party in power during a recession has done poorly at the polls. The energy crisis and the climbing jobless rates in the late 1970s helped Republican Ronald Reagan beat Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980. The souring economy of the early 1990s prompted voters to oust the first President George Bush in favor of a one-time dark horse Democratic presidential candidate, Bill Clinton.

It’s no surprise, then, that many analysts believe the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, will ride this latest downturn in the economy straight to the White House.

But for a few Vail Valley voters, anyway, the economy isn’t really affecting them. Instead, the votes they plan to cast are guided more by principle.

The Vail Valley’s resort economy relies significantly on the business of those who are least likely to be affected by this latest downturn ” the richest 1 percent of the country.

So while Eagle County is seeing some of the impact of the credit crisis that is freezing the housing market ” homes listed for sale aren’t moving as fast as they used to ” O’Brien’s business is as busy as ever. He designs custom, one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture and cabinetry, and most of his clientele are wealthy second-home owners.

He knows all too well how the rest of the country is faring, however. He has family in Michigan, the automobile capital of the country. Sales for American cars continue to lag behind those for Japanese models known for better gas mileage and better reliability.

“We need to get out of the oil business,” O’Brien says. “That’s going to take some doing, or opening up our own reserves.”

John Watson of Avon shares many of O’Brien’s sentiments, except Watson is a longtime Democrat.

He grew up in Scranton, Penn., Hillary Clinton’s hometown. At first, Watson supported Hillary Clinton, but as the Democratic primary contest dragged on he grew to dislike the Clinton campaign. One of Watson’s daughters was pulling hard to bring him into Barack Obama’s camp. Now Watson is convinced.

A former newspaper man, Watson now works the front desk at the St. James in Beaver Creek, and earns only about $28,000 a year, he says. But he doesn’t drive a car, is single, and his main reason for moving here was to be close to one of his daughters, who lives in Summit County.

“I live good, I eat well, I can go on a date,” Watson says.

Watson believes this election is the most important one of our time.

“I’ll be honest with you, I think the Bush administration is criminal,” Watson says, accusing the administration of wrongly using the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to rally American sentiment for an otherwise unjustified war in Iraq.

Obama would return honesty to the White House, Watson says. He’s also encouraged by Obama’s picks for economic advisors ” billionaire CEO Warren Buffett and the decidedly moderate Jason Furman, are two.

“He’s going to bring good people into government, and that inherently will be good for the economy,” he says. “I just think honest is the best policy. We have a very dishonest administration now.”

But despite Watson’s political leanings, he says the country needs balance to achieve success.

“I think that’s why the Reagan administration was so successful; we had a decent Republican president and a Democratic Congress,” he says. “The Clinton years were similarly successful.”

O’Brien is ready to call the race now.

“I think Obama’s got it, because of the Republican stigma …” he says. “Let’s call him a fresh face. He doesn’t sound like he’s too entrenched because he hasn’t been in Washington long enough to be.”

Senator John McCain’s bid for the presidency is far from doomed, though. While the Rasmussen Reports latest presidential poll shows Obama attracting 46 percent of the pool to McCain’s 40 percent, the poll also shows 84 percent of Republicans support McCain.

If polls are any indication, O’Brien is one of the few Republicans planning to break ranks this fall

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