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Many in York Co. remain loyal to Obama as luster fades

On Saturday Karen Shabazz was setting up for a voter registration drive she's hosting today, exactly one year before voters decide who their next president will be.

"It's a year out and we've got a lot of work to do," said Shabazz, who holds phone drives for President Barack Obama on Saturdays. In 2008 she earned the nickname "Obama Mama" for heading grassroots campaigning efforts that many credit for Obama's success.

Next year Shabazz, who's owned a barber shop and beautician school on West Black Street for more than 20 years, hopes for a repeat and believes that young and new voters will again play an important role.

"I've never seen it like this, the economy," she said. "We're hurting out here."

As the election moves closer, the Obama camp is facing questions over whether the president's 2008 supporters can propel him to a victory, or will the anti-incumbent mood that replaced Democrats with Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections persist.

It's been reported widely that many of the donors who gave to Obama in 2008 haven't contributed yet.

A New York Times survey of dozens who gave small contributions in 2008 showed some turning away from Obama because he didn't stand up to Republicans, or didn't fight for his party's initiatives.

Ten Obama supporters in York County interviewed by The Herald last week often reflected those feelings, but all blamed congressional gridlock for inaction in Washington. They said they plan to continue supporting Obama, who raised more than $103,000 in York County in 2008.

Lea White, a recently retired office manager from Fort Mill, said she is angry at the divide and lack of compromise in Washington and how a small minority of legislators is allowed to "run things."

Edmund Fitzgerald, Rock Hill resident and retired vice president of a Charlotte-based gypsum company, said he is confident Obama will be re-elected given the "foolishness" going on in the GOP primary.

"What disturbs me is that here we are trying to do something to move our country forward and get our people back to work, and we have a Congress that's dysfunctional," Fitzgerald said.

He lauded Obama's successes while in office: He saved the banks, the auto industry, and "Three guys that were bad guys disappeared off the face of the Earth," Fitzgerald said.

No alternative

Stephen Wilson, who moved from Midland, Texas, 10 years ago to Clover, used to vote Republican and voted for George W. Bush in his first election.

He broke with Bush and the GOP and won't likely support another Republican as long as "extremism" dominates GOP politics, said the 45-year-old technical account manager for a major software corporation.

Obama has "lost a bit of the luster" he had in 2008, said Wilson. Nonetheless, Wilson, who made several contributions to the 2008 campaign, said he will donate again.

The GOP's "win-at-all-costs, gamble-the-entire-U.S.-for-my-position" approach has energized him even more toward supporting Obama - and fighting against the Republican Party, whose Congress members he blames for inaction in Washington.

"They don't realize their job as a congressman is to support the will of the people," he said.

If the GOP offers a more moderate candidate, or if the Democratic Party goes down the "same destructive path" he sees the GOP going, Wilson said he would change allegiances. He describes himself more as an independent voter with no alternative candidate.

Kay Beach, who is retired from teaching computer research seminars at a Washington, D.C.,-area university, feels the same way.

"The Republican Party has gone so far over to the right, I don't feel like I have any alternative."

"I feel like my political campaign sign for this year is going to be the 99 percent can't afford to vote Republican. Too many of the budget cuts are on the backs of the people who it's more difficult to afford," Beach said.

She sees the divisiveness in Washington playing out at home, too. How others have reacted to Obama's initiatives, particularly his signature health care bill, confuses her, she said.

"A lot of my neighbors are benefiting from the changes, dropping the pre-existing conditions and carrying your college children on family health plans, and yet, they're still calling it Obamacare and want it done away with," she said.

Beach said she is also upset by the anti-government sentiment she hears.

"I grew up in an area where you know that most of your friends and family work for the government, and they work very hard." To hear people call them "giveaway jobs" is disappointing, she said.

Inspired to vote

Three Obama supporters from Rock Hill who cast their first ballots in 2008 were at Shabazz's shop Saturday and said they'd support Obama again.

This time around, Jay Jackson, a 42-year-old welder from Rock Hill, said he wants to get even more involved.

Obama's history of hardship and his rise to success as a black man inspired the three to go to the polls for the first time.

"We went through a lot," Jackson said.

"He had some of the same struggles that we had," said Kim Lindsay, 40, a nurse. "A lot of us share that same story," such as coming from a single-parent home or living on food stamps, she said.

Glorious Johnson, 32, a beautician, said she voted for Obama because he seemed "like a normal person. He made you feel like anybody could be president."

They all expressed frustration over the president's initiatives getting "blocked" again and again.

"We've had to watch every little detail of his presidency be picked apart," Johnson said.

Jackson commended Obama on the way he has dealt with the challenges without pointing fingers, while arguing that he was handed big problems to solve by his predecessor:

"Being a president, he has to be a leader and a leader doesn't usually pass on the blame."

Registered to vote?

Register to vote today from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at 208 W. Black St., next to Shabazz Barber Styling College in Rock Hill. There will be music and free hot dogs. There also will be information available regarding the new voter I.D. law and what voters will need to bring to the polls.

York County's contributions to candidates as of the most recent reporting period:

Rick Perry: $9,050

President Barack Obama: $4,234

Mitt Romney: $3,050

Herman Cain: $2,325

Rick Santorum: $2,225

Ron Paul: $1,761

Michele Bachmann: $300

Newt Gingrich: $250

Jon Huntsman: $250