Two electoral realities in the Piedmont Triad

by Jordan Green

You could say it was a tale of two counties in Forsyth, with a sea of blue covering urban Winston- Salem and a field of red bathing the remaining towns and countryside.

Early voting had absorbed the massive crowds, and by Election Day it was down to the purposeful few, the ones who were aware they were making history by tipping the scale one way or the other.

Seven people were seated on the bench inside the 14th Street Recreation Center in East Winston waiting to vote when the polls opened at 6:30 a.m. In 13 hours, when all 1,155 votes were in, all but five would be cast their ballots for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

The seventh person in line was Meranda White, who brought her 4-year-old son to the polling place.

“I couldn’t sleep because I was up all night thinking about this election,” she said. “It’s an election that will affect me. It’s going to affect my kids. I live in public housing. I might be homeless.”

Sadie Webster, a retired nursing professor at Winston-Salem State University and a member of its first nursing class in 1957, seemed conscientious of the fact that the outcome would define Obama’s place in history: whether he would be consigned to the sad crowd of one-term presidents or validated as a leader whose policies were embraced by the majority of the electorate.

“I’m a staunch supporter of our president,” Webster said. “I’m so excited about what he stands for. He was worked extremely hard for four years in spite of adversity. I feel like if he’s reelected, he’s going to accomplish more. He’s a leader for all people.”

Over at the Beeson’s Crossing Fire Department polling place, a slice of Americana near the Interstate 40/Business 40 split outside of Kernersville, they could be forgiven if they didn’t see it coming. There, 69.7 percent of voters supported the Romney/Ryan ticket.

Traffic was brisk with parking overflowing into the grass. Around mid-morning about a dozen people sat in folding chairs waiting for an open voting machine at any given time. Two Republican volunteers outside rushed up to cars with their red sample ballots.

“There seems to be more enthusiasm on the Republican side,” said John Meroney Sr., one of the volunteers. “Many of the voters have more of a sense of urgency.”

He and other Kernersville Republicans had been meeting for the better part of a year. They raised money through backyard barbecues to sponsor a booth at the Dixie Classic Fair and pay for a phone-banking effort to promote their slate. Neighbors in Kernersville found confirmation in one another’s activism that there was a widely shared desire to relieve Obama of his responsibilities: Meroney, who called hundreds of people, was working through his phone list one day when a neighbor knocked on his door to urge him to get out and vote for the Republican ticket.

Outside the fire department polling place, Debbie Griffin was conferring with the precinct’s chief judge in the bitter cold. She said she was worried about the preservation of Medicare. One candidate had completely violated her trust – you could guess which one based on her declaration that archconservative Congresswoman Virginia Foxx is her hero – and the other left her with some doubts.

You could also sense Griffin’s anxiety when she spoke about illegal immigration, an issue on which Obama made a decided appeal to Hispanic voters.

“There are too many people coming to this country illegally,” she said. “They’re taking services they didn’t pay for. I see these old ladies that gave up their sons, fathers and husbands in wars to keep our country free, and there’s nothing here for them anymore.”

Another woman, who declined to give her name, said she was definitely voting for Romney because as a small-business owner she anticipates burdensome costs on the horizon as a result of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, whose survival Obama’s reelection assures.

You’d have to look close to find the differences between elections 2012 and 2008 in Forsyth County. Obama carried the county by 53.0 percent in last week’s election, only 1.8 percentage points less than in 2008. And only one precinct, Friedland Moravian in the southeast corner on the Davidson county line, flipped from Obama to Romney. In both elections the margin was only about 50 votes.

Forsyth County is a little more conservative than neighboring Guilford, but voter preferences, at least when it comes to presidential candidates, seem to have changed little in both counties over the past four years of tea-party backlash and partisan warfare. Like other urban North Carolina counties, about 55 percent of the electorate favors the moderate-progressive positions of the Democratic Party, while a little less than half hew to the conservative line. Forsyth County is like an amalgamation of rural Yadkin County, where about 75 percent of voters favored Romney, and cosmopolitan Durham County, where they stood with Obama by the same measure.

The two constituencies might as well live in different countries.