11/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Pumpkin Fest Gets Political In Lefty Half-Moon Bay

Political expression became the new spice in pumpkin pie this year at the annual Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival. The annual weekend event draws more than 200,000 visitors from all over the San Francisco Bay Area to this small, lively town along the Pacific coast. This year, in addition to gawking at record-weight pumpkins, the crowds demonstrated unusual levels of political enthusiasm, from staunch conservatives to free-loving liberals.

The election-based fanfare included multiple groups' volunteers registering voters who walked by with costumed children. The McCain and Obama campaigns were both represented, as was the League for Coastside Protection, the League of Women Voters, Yes on Prop 2 to fight animal cruelty, No on Prop. 8 to allow gay marriage, and perhaps the best marketing ploy of the festival -- the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company's "alection," in which customers could choose a beer for Obama, or a beer for McCain. In actuality, the two taps served the same Mavericks Ale.

See a slideshow here:

Expectedly, the most impassioned people stood at the two presidential campaign tables. But their manners of excitement came through in very different ways.

At the San Mateo County Republican Party booth, one would not have known that Obama was up in the polls, or that the San Francisco Bay Area is stereotypically liberal. Steady streams of festival-goers stopped by the table to ask for McCain paraphernalia. In fact, the booth even ran out of the small-sized McCain-Palin round stickers, and the donation jar was stuffed full of dollar bills.

"I was a Romney girl [during the primary]," said volunteer Sharon M. But as soon as McCain chose Sarah Palin as a running mate, Sharon and another fellow volunteer said that they felt much more enthusiastic for the ticket.

"She's the only one of the four with executive experience," Sharon said. "We love Sarah Palin. We think she's extremely intelligent. She's fearless and articulate. I think she's another Margaret Thatcher." They heralded Gov. Palin's debate performance as "very genuine," compared to Sen. Biden's "scripted" and "delicate" performance.

The number one concern on these volunteers' minds is the Iraq War, with the economy coming in second, as they explained the economy of our country is of little importance if we don't have our freedom. Sharon said, "We're fighting a worldwide war on terror...we do not need a president who wants to sit around with enemies and have tea."

Paul C., working alongside Sharon, stated misgivings on Obama's tax policies. "Obama's scheme is a rehash on an old communist theme called 'tax the rich,'" he said. Paul said that he wishes for spending cuts, and that there are currently too many "bullshit grants for environmentalist groups" and "fluff funding" going to colleges. In fact, Paul said jokingly that "there are a lot of communists in the area, and I do this [volunteer for McCain] to piss them off."

Paul said that the troubled economy would be helped with lower interest rates, and business-friendly tax policy. He said that Obama's plan to tax those who make more than $250,000 a year would produce a lot less taxes than one would think. "The leftists are living with their parents in their basements blogging all the time," Paul said. "If they actually owned a house and had to pay mortgage, they'd understand."

One Republican at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company "alection" booth clearly would have agreed with Paul had he heard his comment. Buying a drink for his Democratic friend, the customer joked, "Like usual, it was the Republican who put the money in and the Democrat who walked away with the beer." With Mavericks Ale being sold from two taps -- each one sporting a figurine of a candidate -- customers lined up to state their choice. A board on the side tallied which candidate got more customers. See the slideshow for results.

Back at the McCain booth, Sharon stated reservations about Sen. Obama's alleged enrollment as a Muslim in an Indonesian school, and his affiliations to the Socialist, Marxist and Communist parties. Paul agreed, calling Obama a "red diaper baby," suggesting that his mother was a Communist. Sharon added hesitations about Michelle Obama, because of her thesis at Princeton, which Sharon said demonstrates Mrs. Obama's support of black separatism in the United States. A February article on quotes parts of the thesis verbatim, which describe only Obama's feelings of being seen as an outsider because of her race. The full text can be found linked from that article.

Those at the Obama booth were not without their criticism of their opponent, either. Ninety-year-old Irene Nelson called McCain a "bitter, bitter man," and said, "Don't mention McCain's name to me." She said that McCain would sacrifice his life just to be president -- "that's how badly he wants it" -- and that he doesn't know how to control his emotions, referring to the televised debates. "And Obama just sits there and laughs."

But fellow volunteer Anne Dilenschneider quickly reminded those present not to slip into a tirade about McCain: "We're going to take the high road at this table. This campaign is about decency."

Dilenschneider said that there were many young adults and first-time voters visiting their table today. "People born in 1990," she said. The San Mateo County Democrats are the official callers to New Mexico, where Dilenschneider recently attended a Spanish-language rally where attendees waited five hours to hear Obama speak.

Irene Nelson, who was born in 1918, said she had "seen every kind of war, every kind of president," and that this election is a "new breath of life in this country." Hardly looking a day past 70, Nelson usually volunteers for the senior booth at the festival, which sells mushroom sandwiches. "But now to vote for Obama? That's too exciting."

Nelson's reaction to the economic crisis is vastly different from that of the Republican volunteers. "I've seen bread lines. I don't want to see that again," she said. "I think Obama has a feel -- he understands the people." Thinking back to the presidents in her lifetime, she compares Sen. Obama with President Kennedy.

She particularly pointed out that her candidate represents the current "poly-cultural community," as the American population comprises those of such diverse backgrounds -- a point well supported by the day's display of clashing colors and messages.