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Skin Color, The Presidency, and a Swing State: Locals Weigh In

We’ve heard the phrase “historic election” countless times. But as to why it’s truly historic gets into a topic that’s a bit sensitive for some: race. The color of one candidate’s skin—namely, Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama--is a known factor that will no doubt influence some voters’ decisions to vote for, or against him.
It’s essentially impossible to tell how many people will consider race as a factor. Many don’t admit to basing their decision on that, and some may not even realize it. But we talked with several people of various backgrounds who had plenty to say on the issue. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore reports.
Springfield resident Joseph Donson was at the Barack Obama camapaign rally in Springfield Saturday night. He says race didn’t play a role in his decision to vote for Obama; he says instead of a black and white issue, he sees it purely as a Republican-Democrat issue.

And yet, he remembers the Civil Rights movement, when he, a young black man, was standing in line to register to vote when several African Americans were beaten down in the line behind him. He says this is the first presidential election he’s been to.

I ask him an upfront question: whether he has friends in the African American community who are voting for Barack Obama primarily because of Obama’s race. And, he gives me an honest answer: He says he's sure there probably are, but he doesn't know who they are.

I ask him if he’d still be voting for Barack Obama if the Senator were a Republican. He says he's not sure. Reflecting, he then says perhaps he is partially voting based on race, without knowing it.

Also at the rally was Springfield resident Tracey Morrison. For the record, she’s white. She said she likes what Obama stands for, and that’s first and foremost why he has her vote. But she acknowledges that part of what inspires her has to do with the candidate’s race.

On the other side of the coin are those for whom race was a factor in deciding not to vote for Obama.

Recently I stopped by the Southside Senior Center in Springfield during lunchtime and chatted with a few folks about the election.

I asked seniors Randall Haroldson and Jack Fredrick whether the fact that Barack Obama had African roots would cause either of them not to vote for him. Haroldson, who is neither Republican nor Democrat, says, “Yes.” He says I’d be silly to even ask that question any further south than here.

He says while he doesn’t want Obama to win, he’s also concerned about what happens to race relations if he loses.

Fredrick, who is 76 years old, says he usually votes Republican anyway. He adds, however, that while he’s knows it’s not politically correct to say this, he’s just not ready to have a black man as president.

The election, of course, is tomorrow. The Obama campaign has, in recent weeks, tried to highlight the fact that although their candidate is proud of his African heritage, which comes from his Kenyan father, he was also raised by white grandparents in Kansas. For people like Haroldson, however, these final efforts wouldn’t matter anyway; he voted weeks ago, absentee.

For KSMU News, I'm Jennifer Moore.