Growing up in North Carolina, Janice Hage saw her mother move from the welfare line to well off.
The product of a teen pregnancy, Hage remembers the early years, when her family accepted food stamps and welfare assistance.
Even with help from her grandparents, the 34-year-old nurse practitioner now living in Fort Mill says, “it was never enough.”
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As a child, Hage knew she was different from other children because she took free lunches, and at home, food was never wasted. She also remembers feeling her parents were doing everything they could.
Over time, Hage watched as her mother completed college and became a mechanical engineer.
Today, Hage holds a master’s degree and a good job. She wouldn’t mind paying more in taxes if it would lead to a stronger safety net for families like hers once was.
“It wasn’t like it was a hand out,” she said. “As some people say, it was a hand up.”
Hage has put her money on President Barack Obama’s leadership, donating to, and signing up to volunteer for his re-election campaign against Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
“I don’t see how Romney is going to help the middle class and people that are struggling with his support of the wealthy, not taxing them,” she said.
That’s likely to be a theme repeated over and over as the Democratic National Convention meets this week in Charlotte.
Donors such as Hage have been helping pay for all the advertising and campaigning in the months leading up to the Democrats’ big party.
The most recent records filed with the Federal Election Commission show Obama’s campaign slipping behind Romney’s in South Carolina. Obama has raised $1,088,121 to Romney’s $1,247,334 through July.
But the president edged the former Massachusetts governor in money raised in heavily Republican York County in the same time frame – $29,648 to $22,198.
‘Things are better’
Herschel Lee Brown Jr. helped Obama take the lead in local fundraising.
The 60-year-old Sharon store owner calls himself a lifelong Democrat who has supported “the ideals that the Democratic Party platform stands for, in terms of women’s rights and rights for all people, no matter sexual orientation, any of that.”
“I’m proud of President Obama for taking a stand in those areas. I wish he could have done more. He’s been a great president.”
His political beliefs are shared by his family, Brown said, which opened a gas station in the rural western York County town of Sharon in 1951.
The business has made it over the years and has now evolved into a country market and convenience store.
As a small business owner, Brown doesn’t agree with the Republican Party’s assessment of his experience.
“I’ve heard so much rhetoric about how Obama’s policies are bad for small businesses,” he said. “I haven’t noticed any difference at all. In fact, things are better. Our economy is slowly improving.
“It’s unfortunate that there’s a group in Congress that has really attempted to block everything from moving forward.”
Before the economy slumped, Brown’s business had already suffered another blow more than a decade ago when he had to stop offering his employees health insurance benefits because it became too expensive.
Brown has about 10 employees, some part time, some full time.
Now he doesn’t even carry insurance for himself, which he said so far has been OK, because he’s in pretty good health. The policies he has found while shopping around for insurance would cost him several hundred dollars a month and thousands in deductibles, so he has passed them up.
“They’ve got all the poor folk in a pickle,” he said.
But the risks he’s taking still linger in the back of his mind, and he’s hopeful that one day he can afford health insurance again – and he hopes the health care law Obama promoted is a step toward that day.
‘Government to solve a need’
Kenneth Barrett also is sticking with Obama and his plans for getting the economy moving.
While Republicans decry the stimulus package for not working, the 65-year-old retired consulting engineer from Tega Cay said, it has worked some – and if it had been bigger, it would have worked better.
“As soon as that law was signed,” Barrett said, “the ink was not dry on his signature and they were going around saying the stimulus didn’t work.”
Investing in roads and bridges and other infrastructure would provide a needed boost for the construction industry, which is struggling to recover from the recession, he said.
It would employ people and stimulate the economy, he said, while “building things that the people of the United States could use for the next 50 years.”
Republicans have been taking a comment Obama made about the government helping businesses by building roads and infrastructure “totally out of context,” Barrett said, trying to convince supporters that the president said businesses didn’t build themselves “to stir people up.”
“There was a time when politicians saw the need and used government to solve that need,” he said. “This austerity program of not spending money is the exact wrong thing to do for the economy, and it’s the wrong thing to do for the future of the United States.”
‘Nope, nope, nope...’
Lestina Potts is proud of Obama and the strides he has made.
Though the president hasn’t accomplished everything he’s promised, Potts said, his Republican opposition is as much to blame for that.
“No matter what he says, it’s like, ‘Nope, nope, nope, nope. Not going to vote for that,’” the 61-year-old Fort Mill registered nurse said. “So what do you do? You continue to push. The same thing is going to happen to Mitt Romney” if he gets elected.
Potts said she knows what it feels like to be alienated, because she was born in the 1950s and grew up in the 1960s and has lived all her life in Fort Mill.
“But we have to stop and start thinking about people,” she said
Potts wishes Republicans and Democrats could come together as a “united front” and focus on taking care of people instead of saying, “Let the do-gooders do it.”
“Well you know, the do-gooders do do it,” she said.
But she wishes Americans truly would “come together as united front – that’s what we say we are.”
Giving to Obama
Fundraising totals for Democratic President Barack Obama through July:
York County – $29,648
Lancaster County – $7,028
Chester County – $952
South Carolina – $1,088,121