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'It's a Victory for People Like Us'

Bush Emphasis on Values Drew Ohio Evangelicals

By David Finkel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2004; Page A03

SHEFFIELD LAKE, Ohio -- Here on Redwood Drive, in the little house with the white picket fence, these first days after the election are good days, happy days, blessed days.

"Dear Lord," Cary Leslie is saying for the sixth time since waking up at 3:45 a.m. to go to work. He has prayed for strength not to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock. He has prayed for a safe day for his wife and three children. He has prayed for patience with the foul-tempered customers he deals with at the car-rental counter. He has prayed for a job that will pay enough for a struggling family of five to keep up with the bills. He has prayed for a quick resolution to the presidential election. And now, with the election decided, he is thanking God for listening to his prayers.

Cary and Tara Leslie, shown with their family, liked Bush because they felt he espoused moral values. (David Finkel -- The Washington Post)

Tara Leslie, Cary's wife, has been praying for President Bush, too, and now she is saying, "I think it's so important to have a society of moral absolutes."

"It's really good to know our country had a decision to make, and there are so many people who feel this way," Cary says. "It's a victory for people like us."

The Leslies: They are George W. Bush votes come to life. The millions of voters who describe themselves as "white evangelicals," 77 percent of whom voted for Bush? That's the Leslies. The voters who said "moral values" was the single issue that mattered most to them, 80 percent of whom voted for Bush? That's the Leslies, too.

They are precisely the people the Bush campaign built its reelection strategy on -- people who would put faith-based moral values above every other consideration when it came time to vote, including the war in Iraq, terrorism, the economy and, in the Leslies' case, a life that has been in financial peril since Sept. 11, 2001.

He is 29. She is 27. They have a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old, and they are thinking of having one more. They oppose abortion, favor a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman, and want more Supreme Court justices like Anton Scalia and Clarence Thomas. They eat at home and shop at Wal-Mart. They home-school their 5-year-old and are members of the nondenominational Church on the Rise, which is "committed to helping families hold down the family fort in the 21st Century," according to its literature, and where the senior pastor says 90 percent of the 1,200 congregants voted for Bush.

"Religious kooks," Cary says, imagining how some people might think of them. His own description: "We're pretty boring people. Normal people."

Normal people who, as this week has progressed, have found themselves increasingly happy about the state of America.

"We're definitely going to celebrate," Tara says of Bush's victory, but what that means is constrained by the changes in their lives that occurred during Bush's first administration.

On Sept. 10, 2001, Cary was earning about $55,000 a year. On Sept. 12, the decline began. No one was flying. No one was renting cars. Down went the commissions Cary gets when customers sign up for insurance coverage. "Maybe $35,000," he says of what he earns now, and that includes income from a second job he took a year ago, delivering pizzas on Friday and Saturday nights.

Forty hours a week at the car-rental counter, 12 hours a week running pizzas, the pinch of gasoline at $2 a gallon, savings drained, the realization that he and Tara are "kind of the working poor" -- and still it was moral concerns, rather than economic ones, that guided both of them on Election Day.

"I don't blame President Bush for anything that's happened with my income," Cary says. Rather, he looks at Bush as someone who believes in "personal responsibility," which Cary believes in as well. Don't complain. Solve. "There are jobs out there," he says, and as tired as he might be on Saturday night as he drives the streets of northern Ohio, he can use that time to listen to worship tapes, to think, to pray and to remind himself of what the priorities of a good life should be.

"Jobs will come and go. But your character -- you have to hang on to that," he says. "It's what you're defined by."

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