Andrew Dys

Blue collar Lesslie, white collar Laurel Creek share common bond in SC primary

In the darkness Saturday morning, right when the polls opened at 7 a.m., Jim Hill was there to cast his ballot in Lesslie, where most collars are blue.

The Marine Corps veteran put it as bluntly as an old leatherneck can:

"I'd take any of these right here over what we have, Obama," said Hill, who voted for former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. "He has to go."

At the same time, Kevin Malone was voting for U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas - right after the first guy in line wasn't saying who he voted for except that it was not President Barack Obama.

Obama the Democrat was not on the ballot in this Republican primary - a fast-changing, potentially country-changing election.

But Democrat was a dirty word for so many Saturday in this rough-and-tumble Republican fracas that has seen the expected winner freefall, a challenger turn around and surge despite allegations that would make a sailor blush, and candidates attacking one another and the media.

The word that was used more than "Newt" - former House Speaker Newt Gingrich - was Obama. Obama is the bad guy for these voters. There was no doubt at the polls after people voted that anger over a country in economic turmoil is directed at the top.

In Lesslie, a vote is a local vote, done in a local precinct close to where kids are raised, money earned, dreams realized - or not.

In this precinct - historically one of the most Republican in York County - people live just outside of Rock Hill, because that's where space and quiet are. Almost 75 percent of Lesslie voted Republican in the 2008 general election.

Republican presidential primaries in South Carolina are not for milquetoasts who wear bowties - although those elites often try to tell the rest of us about Lesslie and South Carolina.

Lesslie on Election Day is a place with so many people who work hard, raise kids, and want the government to stay out of their lives.

It is a patriotic, America-first place. In just a couple of hours Saturday morning, three combat veterans - including Arnold Hensley, wounded in Vietnam 40 years ago after he volunteered - had voted.

"I gave what I could for my country then, and I'm voting today and giving what I can now," said Hensley. "I chose Santorum. I don't need anybody to tell me how to vote."

In the hallway after voting, just shooting the breeze about the election and candidates, were Mike and Marsha Workman and John and Vickie Hinds. People make friends easily in Lesslie.

The Workmans voted for Gingrich, who won the Lesslie precinct in a squeaker over Santorum.

"He's the guy who will grab the bull by the horns, and keep Obama from getting re-elected," said Mike Workman. "The country is in trouble."

The Hinds' roots in Lesslie are so deep, their daughter, now a doctor, went to school where her parents voted on Saturday, Lesslie Elementary. John Hinds has worked down the road a piece at Bowater - now Resolute Forest Products - for 36 years.

"I voted for Mitt Romney, because young people need to have opportunities in this country," said John Hinds. Vickie Hinds also chose Romney.

This is a precinct where people vote before going to work - even on a Saturday.

Clyde Hines, an electrician and drywall worker, wore a work jacket that said "Clyde" right over his heart. Underneath that was a Dale Earnhardt T-shirt with the late NASCAR driver's old Wrangler car emblazoned on it. Hines is Rock Hill and Lesslie every day of his life.

A candidate such as Romney - rich, who won't release his taxes - rankles Hines, who pays a lot more than 15 percent income tax, that's for sure.

And Hines said he could care less about Gingrich's personal life.

"I voted for Gingrich because he has the experience to run the country and beat President Obama," Hines said. "Obama is not a bad guy - he's a bad president."

Mike Ditton, smiling, came next, saying Gingrich got his vote, too.

"Sure, I struggled some with the personal baggage, but we need a new president; we need a man who can beat Mr. Obama," Ditton said. "Gingrich has the experience it takes to do the job.

"The country elected someone last time who wasn't ready - that is obvious."

Up walked a lady named Melissa Adams, who said Ron Paul was her choice because the government has to get out of her life - and everybody else's.

"President Obama and the Democrats are operating this country at a record deficit," Adams said. "He has to go."

All these people voted for their candidate - against Obama, really - even though it will be November before any can vote against Obama for real.

A firefighter walked up after voting, and Adams asked him to thank the guys at the Lesslie volunteer fire station for saving her house in a kitchen fire a few days before.

That's Lesslie - voting, talking, neighbors who work for a living likely with hands and backs, and volunteer firefighters saving the day. Surely the next guy to vote had to climb under houses for a living - and he did.

Benny Etter, small business owner of AirTek Heating and Air Conditioning, stopped to vote between jobs on Saturday. His day was spent in somebody's musty attic, somebody else's dirty crawl space - and American democracy.

Etter, who knows all about a rough economy because he's in the middle of a recession trying to raise a family and keep his business running, voted for Santorum.

"Out here, people want a good, decent candidate, a Christian man and family man, who knows how to get the country back on track," Etter said.

Do people on the other side of Rock Hill share similar views? Laurel Creek precinct voters, north of Celanese Road, heading toward Lake Wylie's southern shore, voted more than 75 percent Republican in 2008.

Laurel Creek voters to a person said Saturday they wanted Obama out, too - and many said they voted to find a candidate to help him find the door.

Mark Billman, an oral surgeon, meaning he's a small businessman, too, said he voted for Gingrich because he "has the experience and ability to beat President Obama."

Obama has been, Billman said, a failure as president.

Kyle Rinehart, the next voter out, was far more blunt.

"This country's economy now is a train wreck, a Dumpster fire, because of Obama and Democrats," Rinehart said. "Gingrich knows the system. He's experienced. He's the only one who knows how this game is played, and can win against Obama."

Darren Ashley, voting next, said Santorum or Gingrich were the only choices, and he finally went for Santorum because of Santorum's family values.

"But I'll take any of these four over President Obama," said Ashley.

People streamed in and out of the Laurel Creek Clubhouse, a place that hosted two of the Republican candidates in visits last week. Laurel Creek, too, went for Gingrich, with Romney a close second.

Harold and Jane Bullard, owners of an insurance business, both opted for Gingrich and said other Republicans and the media who went after Gingrich over his personal life ought to be ashamed.

"This a candidate who has shown that he can defeat Obama," Harold Bullard said. "If we don't change the president, we are all in trouble."

Rock Hill is not one place. It is many places with many Republicans who have socially conservative ideas, economically conservative ideas - or both.

It has plenty of Democrats, too - but this was not their party. The Democrats have their candidate, and these Republicans, plainly, think Obama, as one woman said at Laurel Creek, is "a horrible president."

Maybe the most powerful critique of Obama came back at that Lesslie precinct, from Terry and Susan Houston, who admitted that they were "this close" - holding thumb and forefinger together - to voting for Obama in 2008 despite their own conservative ideals.

"I like Obama the man, but it was almost like he was too good to be true," said Terry Houston. "Then I was proud that we had elected him; the first black president was important for our country.

"But he was too good to be true, because he hasn't lived up to his promises. As a president, there is no other word but failure."

Both Terry and Susan Houston settled on Gingrich Saturday, despite his personal baggage. Electing a president is not an election of church deacons.

"I looked at both Ron Paul and Gingrich - but only Gingrich is electable," Terry Houston said. "I would take anyone running over Obama. He's running the country into the ground."