Racism Still a Factor Among White Voters in Western Pennsylvania, but Jobs More Important for Most in Swing State
This city is largely white, heavily Democratic, and lies in a rugged area of Western Pennsylvania that John Murtha, its late congressman, called “racist” and “redneck” in the run-up to the 2008 election of Barack Obama.
If Obama’s historic victory ushered America into a postracial era, as some observers suggest, the evidence here is murky.
The sputtering economy weighs most heavily on the minds of voters, and the idea of a black president appears to have gained a grudging acceptance. But the question of race continues to influence the political conversation in ways that often are nebulous and coded, residents and observers said. The result is that the president faces a tough challenge in Pennsylvania despite a big advantage in Democratic voters who have a long history of union activism.
Obama campaign workers recalled being chased off lawns in 2008 as they canvassed door to door; nearly all black residents interviewed in Johnstown said that race continues to affect their lives; and 34 percent of Democrats who voted in the April primary election in Cambria County left Obama’s name blank.
The numbers problem that Obama faces nationally among white men, particularly those without a college degree, appears to be writ large in Cambria County and other parts of the 12th Congressional District, which stretches from north of Johnstown to the West Virginia border.
Among white men across the nation, Mitt Romney leads Obama, 54 percent to 33 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. Among all men surveyed in the poll, the presumptive Republican nominee leads 47 to 40 percent.
“There are people who are prejudiced, but that’s the way it is,” said Joseph Antal, 72, a white supporter of Obama who is president of the state chapter of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
“It’s just a new thing, and people don’t want to get over it,” said Frank Fantauzzo, 65, campaign director for the Cambria County Democratic Committee. “People would say, ‘He’s going to make us Muslims.’