John McCain held a town hall meeting in the coastal city of Wilmington, N.C. North Carolina is in play but this was John McCain's first visit to the state during this election season and his first visit ever to this city. The event was being held in downtown Wilmington on the campus of Cape Fear Community College. Security measures were being implemented from early morning on, and for some students it was nothing more than an inconvenience.
As far as I could tell, the crowd was much thinner than when Barack Obama came to this city in April during the primary. The venue itself, the Schwartz Center, is much smaller than the Trask Coliseum on the campus of University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where Obama spoke in front of an estimated crowd of almost 6000 people. The local McCain headquarters estimates that it gave out 2000 tickets this weekend, but holding a ticket does not guarantee admission.
Instead of going to the usual spots for a political rally, I decided to stroll down the main street to see the local reaction to McCain's visit. Because of the location of the college right at the north end of downtown, I thought it would be interesting to see especially how the merchants are reacting to this historic first visit ever by a presidential candidate of a major party in this town.
The store keepers and building owners were doing what they could to show support for the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama. Many had Obama '08 signs displayed prominently on their windows. Mediterra, a local restaurant, had a large Obama sign in its window.
I asked the workers inside the meaning of that sign. Eryn Roberts, one of the servers, said, "The sign is in preparation for the rally and fund raiser that will be held here on Friday. But with McCain in town today, we made sure that the sign was up today."
Roberts went further, "The downtown area is big for Obama. The Reel Cafe down the street is going to have a victory Party on November 4th." I thought, wow, these people are thinking far ahead. As I left the restaurant, I could hear a young woman across the street shout, "Obama '08!"
The owner of the building at 200 N. Front Street, Bob De Young, had a banner measuring 6' x 8' on the side of the building. It was hard to miss. It read "OBAMA BIDEN CHANGE."
"I couldn't find any big sign," he told me. "So I went to the store, bought a blue tarp and handpainted OBAMA BIDEN CHANGE on it. I hung it on the side of my building for everyone to see. This election is very, very important. McCain is treading on dangerous ground with his rhetoric at rallies. We simply have to get away from that. When he had to tell this woman in Ohio that Obama was not an Arab, there was an expression of shame there. That's bad."
"In downtown, we get a lot of people walking around, and when we put the sign up, we got a lot of thumbs up."
So, I am beginning to think that the polls that show Obama ahead of McCain in North Carolina may actually be right. There is a huge Obama enthusiasm here, and, if this little part of North Carolina, which is traditionally very conservative, can get this enthusiastic about Obama on the day of McCain's visit, maybe North Carolina may present a very, very big surprise.