Ohio Republicans wary of Obama

Barnaby Phillips finds concern about the president-elect in a rural part of the US.

Republicans are preparing for four years of Democratic rule [GALLO/GETTY]

Galion, Ohio, is a conservative small town, surrounded by corn-fields and woods.

It has an old-fashioned Main Street, a handsome library, a Veteran’s Memorial paid for by the community, and several churches.

In the three days I spent trawling around it over this election period, I never saw a black face.

On the neatly trimmed lawns, the McCain-Palin signs outnumbered the Obama-Biden signs by a ratio of about 10 to one.

And yes, Galion voted reliably Republican on Tuesday.

This is the heartland of  America, and it values God and Country. So this is where I returned, in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s victory, to see what people were making of it all.

John Swain, a local Republican volunteer, was taking down the last campaign posters at party headquarters.  John, now retired, was Galion’s chief of police, and has always voted Republican.

“I’m not prejudiced, I always thought Colin Powell would have been a logical choice. I have no problem with an African-American being president,” John said.

But he is anxious about the future. His main concern is that President Obama will raise taxes, and that “everything will become more expensive”.

I asked whether he believed Barack Obama loved America in the same way that he did. John hesitated for some time. “I hope so”, he said. “I hope he does.”

Limbaugh country

We drove on through town, listening to Rush Limbaugh, the doyen of right-wing radio.

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Rush was spewing anger and indignation, and yet you also sensed he may have secretly enjoyed Obama’s victory.

A “radical” is in the White House, and Rush is going to have plenty to talk about in the months and years to come. 

Mendy Sellman has listened to a lot of Rush Limbaugh over the years.

If there is such a thing as a conservative base, then she is definitely part of it.

A devout Baptist, Mendy’s family has worked the same farm just outside Galion for the past seven generations.

When I first met Mendy, a couple of days before the election, she told me that George Bush had done a good job by keeping her safe in the seven years since  the attacks of September 11, 2001. She voted for John McCain.

So, does she now trust Barack Obama to keep America safe? Mendy sounded doubtful.

“Part of me wants to, part of me questions whether he can really grasp the whole concept,” she said. 

Mendy is also concerned about Barack Obama’s faith. 

She says she does not believe the widely–circulated rumour that he is a Muslim, but she is still troubled by remarks made by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor.

An older America

Swain is concerned Obama’s presidency will mean higher taxes

Standing outside her beautiful 19th century farm-house here in the middle of Ohio, with corn fields stretching away in all directions, it felt to me that Mendy represented an older America, one that is now being eclipsed by a new consensus being formed in distant and diverse cities.

“I don’t think everything is perfect with the old America, I just think we have to be very careful, and consider the whole,” she said.

“I’d like Barack Obama to come out here, and see our lives, and how wholesome they are.”

Make no mistake, in parts of America there is fear and hatred, and there will be many who will find it difficult to ever accept an African-American president. In a country so vast and populous, it could not be otherwise.

But that is not what I found in Galion.

Instead, I met people who seemed disconcerted and worried about the election results.

But they were also manifestly trying to adjust to a new reality, balancing their instinctive respect for the office of the president, with their doubts about the new man.

And, for a short while at least, prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.  

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