"The black people in Gary, Ind., are racist"

Dueling Obama and McCain supporters troll for votes on a street corner in a city key to Obama's Indiana hopes.

By Edward McClelland

Published November 4, 2008 10:45PM (EST)

There's no polling place at the corner of Fifth and Broadway, in downtown Gary, Ind., but it may be the best place to watch the election in Indiana. At least it's attracting the most colorful voters.

At noon, Melanie MacBride and Molly Hudgens were standing by the curb, flapping Obama signs at passing truck drivers, who answered with air horn salutes.

Just minutes before, Mayor Rudy Clay, who is renowned for his muttonchops, his stylish menswear and his photo opportunities, had stopped by the corner.

"We just met the mayor of Gary," MacBride said. "He was totally awesome. He gave us this stuff."

MacBride flashed a photo of Clay posing with Barack Obama.

"He was wearing a suit," she said.

"With a weird back," Hudgens noted.

"He looked really sharp," MacBride said. "He was in a Hummer. Two big dudes, two bodyguards, came out. He gave us the pictures of himself while he was on a cellphone."

You could tell, just by their shoes, that MacBride and Hudgens aren't Hoosiers. MacBride wore Skechers; Hudgens, vintage Pumas. Both live in Chicago. With Illinois in the bag, Obama is free to deploy his home-state loyalists across the state line. This morning, thousands of Chicagoans poured into Indiana.

"I'm not worried that Illinois is a swing state," MacBride said. "I know a lot of people going farther. People are going to Indianapolis. I feel we're kind of lame. When we got to the volunteer center, they had so many people they'd already canvassed every house twice, so they told us to stand on a corner and start a rally."

The women had competition. A few feet away, Silvia Bratton was holding a handmade "Vote Republican" sign. Earlier, she'd been pelted with an empty fast-food box. But a dude with a crewcut on a motorcycle shouted "Go McCain!" as he buzzed past.

"White people are giving me the thumbs up and black people are throwing things," reported Bratton. Bratton is a Gary resident who became a Republican because, she said, a former Democratic mayor ordered goons to break into her house, spray gas in her face and crack her teeth.

"The black people in Gary, Ind., are racist," she grumbled. "They say I'm not African-American because I was born in Panama. John McCain was born in Panama."

MacArthur Drake, a lawyer who works across the street, approached the Obama volunteers. That morning, Drake's wife had stood in line for over two hours to vote at a precinct expecting 80 percent turnout. Drake had voted early at City Hall -- over the objections of Republicans, who unsuccessfully sued to limit early voting to the county seat of Crown Point, 20 miles from Gary.

"I think a lot of people suspect that it was to suppress the vote in areas where the vote would be for Obama," Drake said.

Obama can't win Indiana without a huge margin in Lake County, Drake explained. And he can't achieve that margin without a huge turnout in Gary. (On Fox News today, Karl Rove alleged that election officials in Lake County will simply create the margin needed. Rove offered no evidence, of course.)

While Drake was talking about the election, a black van wheeled around the corner. The driver was wearing sunglasses and holding a megaphone to his mouth.

"Nothing but Zionist propaganda," he screamed. "Get that shit out of here. There hasn't been a constitutional government in the United States since 1913."

Drake shook his head.

"He needs a McCain sticker."


Edward McClelland

Edward McClelland is the author of "Nothin' But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times and Hopes of America's Industrial Heartland." Follow him on Twitter at @tedmcclelland.

MORE FROM Edward McClelland

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

War Room