ELKO, Nev. -- A pro-John McCain / anti-Barack Obama bus tour stopped here Thursday morning, urging voters in one of the state's most conservative counties to be unwavering in their support for the Republican candidate.
The "Stop Obama Tour" kicked off the day before with rallies in Sacramento, Calif., and Reno. In Elko, speakers questioned Obama's experience, stoked fears that the Democratic candidate will raise taxes and will strip people of their gun rights if elected. Speakers also criticized the media for its coverage of the campaign and offered ringing endorsements of McCain and Sarah Palin.
The "Our Country Deserves Better" political action committee, headed by former California state assemblyman Howard Kaloogian (who launched the successful campaign to recall California's Democratic governor Gray Davis in 2003), is funding the tour, which is scheduled to make close to 40 stops across the country before ending in Washington, D.C. Organizers are calling on average Americans to submit resumes online or at their rallies, and plan on selecting the best three to show that ordinary Americans are more qualified to lead this country than is Obama.
Conservative columnist and radio host Mark Williams said "Barack Hussein Obama, because that is his full name," sounded like a late-night infomercial spokesman in his stump speeches and debate performances.
"I'll tell you what I'm going to do as president, but first send me money," Williams said in his Obama-as-infomercial-salesman impression. To pay for Obama's lofty plans will require raising taxes on the hard-earned money of blue collar Americans like those in Elko's ranching and mining community, he said.
Deborah Johns, who the PAC's website describes as "one of [Fox News Channel's] favorite military moms," spent most of her speech emphasizing Obama's lack of qualifications to head the American military when compared with veteran McCain.
"Barack Obama is not even worthy to shine the shoes of John McCain," Johns said. But she also hit Obama on economic issues, telling the two dozen supporters gathered at the rally that he would be "nothing more than a modern day Robin Hood."
After the rally, local attorney and small business owner Grant Gerber, whose family has lived in the area for more than 100 years, told me the economy and likelihood of tax increases under an Obama administration have him most concerned, calling Obama's economic plan a "redistribution of wealth" that smells of socialism.
A Vietnam vet who attained the rank of Captain in the Special Forces, Gerber said he wouldn't want Obama as his commander in chief.
Gerber conceded that Obama looks to have more local support than George W. Bush, who carried Elko County with 80 percent of the vote in 2004. But he bemoaned some of the national media stories with Elko datelines as inaccurate because they "make it appear that the area is becoming an Obama hot spot."
John Norton, a Washington, D.C., transplant who has lived in Elko County for 16 years, thinks Democrats might carry 30 percent of the vote this time around. He attributes the rise in support for Obama in part to biased media coverage. "The press in this country -- except for Fox News -- is very liberal," he said.
Gerber concurred, noting that even the local paper, which was once family owned and unabashedly conservative and is now owned by a media conglomerate, has become more liberal than the community it serves.
Media bias isn't only limited to liberal leanings, Gerber said, but a pessimistic attitude that only highlights negative or sensationalistic stories. "Reporters only write what they think will get printed," he said.
The most egregious example he's found is coverage of the rest of the world's opinion of America. "The national media is not telling the truth. They say Middle Easterners hate Americans, but it's not true," Gerber said. He recently spent two years on a Latter Day Saints humanitarian mission in Egypt working on water projects and providing remedial training and equipment to impoverished communities. Hesays the vast majority of people he encountered had nothing but good things to say about America.
Norton also criticized Obama as being too much of an internationalist who is "acting like he wants to be president of the world." Obama is an attractive and gifted speaker, a modern-era John Kennedy, Norton said, but even though "McCain might not be as well spoken, you don't vote on that."
A self-proclaimed history buff who studied the subject at BYU, Norton thinks too many voters don't know their country's history or give the founding fathers' ideas their due. He also bemoans the popular opinion that higher education or intelligence must inherently lead to liberal values. "If you voice a conservative point of view, they think you're ignorant," he said.
On the issue of experience, Williams said Joe Biden would serve as Obama's "training wheels." He rebutted questions of Palin's experience by suggesting that, unlike Obama, who would be learning from his lieutenant, Palin would have a master hand at the wheel in McCain.
In addition, Norton said, Palin won the support of many locals who felt McCain was not conservative enough. A lot of people in Elko didn't immediately embrace McCain, said Norton. "People were waiting for the [full ticket] McCain/Palin signs before putting them up," he said.
At the rally singer-songwriter Lloyd Marcus performed a song he wrote about Sarah Palin and led the crowd in singing "Proud to Be an American" in honor of the veterans in attendance. "Would this happen at a liberal rally? I don't think so," he said.
Lloyd Marcus' tribute to Sarah Palin, 'Sarah Smile'
At one point, the pro-Obama National Nurses Organizing Committee's "Grade the Candidates" bus pulled alongside the "Stop Obama" bus, raising tensions. But it only stayed a few minutes before driving off.
In fact some say tensions are running high generally in Elko. "There might be a little more testiness" this election, says Norton. But most people get still manage to get along.
That testiness was on display before the rally began when a man whose cowboy hat was littered with pro-McCain and anti-Obama buttons tried to shoe off an Obama supporter sitting on the far side of the parking lot holding an Obama sign. "Get out of here, you bastard," he shouted, before turning his attention on me.
"You people [the media] are in the tank for Obama," he shouted.
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