By Inman Majors, the author of Wonderdog, Swimming in Sky and the forthcoming novel The Millionaires (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 19/10/08):
Not too long ago all anyone was talking about around here was Sarah Palin. And it wasn’t just the Republicans. She was all my Democratic friends could talk about, too.
I didn’t think this focus boded well for Barack Obama’s campaign. The more people talked about her, even in a negative light, the more credence they gave her and the whole Republican campaign. You never fixate on the opponent unless you feel threatened, unless you’re truly worried.
With the economy reeling, our obsession with Ms. Palin has waned a bit. But I’ve noticed another phenomenon. Everyone is still talking about the same person. But this time it’s Barack Obama.
Last week I made stops to both the Republican and Democratic headquarters in town. The Republicans were housed in a small space in the older, original section of a strip mall, around the corner from a CVS pharmacy and a Ben Franklin craft store. Inside was a single cinderblock room, its walls plastered with articles about patriotism, Ronald Reagan, the good health of John McCain and Mr. Obama’s alleged cigarette habit. A six-foot-high model of an oil derrick with a sign that said “Drill Here, Drill Now” stood next to a refreshment table.In the middle of the room were seven or eight chairs formed in a semi-circle around a small table with a Bible on it.
The lone volunteer was a friendly retired woman who had lived in the area for 20 years. I told her the purpose of my visit and she said: “Well, wait till you see what the Democrats have. You’ll understand all this talk about their money after you visit over there.” When I asked how she knew what the competition had to offer, she smiled and admitted she couldn’t resist a peek one day.
When the conversation turned to the election, she barely mentioned Mr. McCain. She kept coming back to Mr. Obama and how he was unfit for the Oval Office. She thought the election in Virginia was a toss-up and reminded me that a lot can happen between now and Election Day.
The Democrats were stationed just across the parking lot in a newer section of the mall, between the Artisans Center of Virginia and Advanced Auto Parts, in a space recently vacated by Radio Shack. As I’d been warned, the place was a lot swankier (if a space in a strip mall can be swanky) and better lighted. There were fewer fliers on the wall, but there was a lending library with Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial,” and biographies of Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and both John and Robert Kennedy.
In back was a small stage with a large flat-screened TV mounted on the wall. Fifty cushioned chairs faced the stage so that visitors could hear local speakers or watch televised debates. You could almost forget you were in a small town in staunch Republican country.
The Democratic volunteers were a retired couple in their 60s. Like the nice woman across the way, they, too, were eager to talk about Barack Obama. Unlike her, though, they wanted to talk about all the reasons they thought he was the man for the job.
Their only mention of Mr. McCain was oblique, when they laughed about the number of people who had come in and asked for a T-shirt that said, “I’m voting for ‘That One.’” The volunteers thought Mr. Obama would win both the state and the nation. But when I asked if they sensed that Republicans had thrown in the towel, especially in light of the economy’s problems, they said: “Not around here. Never around here.”
Driving home, I thought again about the national Sarah Palin obsession, and how that white-hot focus has shifted. All eyes are firmly on Barack Obama now. But one thing hasn’t changed: If your opponents can’t stop talking about you, you must be doing something right.