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The People's Talking Points

By Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A collection of presidential primary chatter heard around the region.

Langley High School, McLean, Va.

"Everyone is into Ron Paul -- his extreme politics," says Jillian "Jam" Mowery, 17, a senior at Langley High School.

"He's anti-government. People our age hate the cops mostly," says Meg Starcher, 18, also a senior at Langley.

"Basically they are against anybody who controls them," says Mowery. "People are really into his appearance. He's this cute, little old man you fall for. It's not the stereotypical look of a president."

"But a bunch of people are into Obama," says Starcher.

"They wear 'Barack and Roll' T-shirts," says Mowery.

The girls are sitting in a coffee shop in McLean. Outside, the wind is blowing something fierce, the temperature has dropped 30 degrees in a matter of hours. The night is black. The deep-purple velvet chairs inside the shop are inviting. So there sit Mowery, in a blue pea coat, and Starcher, in a purple Fall Out Boy T-shirt, talking politics with the bright eyes of youth.

"So it's all Obama. But there are some Clinton supporters. The feminist girls in school are totally into Hillary Clinton. Like, Hannah, she's very spirited. Into feminine rule. They are so into the fact they can vote for a woman. She's winning over all the --

"Cheerleaders!" says Starcher, cutting off Mowery.

"Yes, a lot of our cheerleaders are very, very into Hillary. We talk a lot about it in government class. They are over the top about it. They are like 'Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!' "

-- DeNeen L. Brown

Salshelvis Dominican Salon, Downtown Silver Spring

At the Sashelvis Dominican Salon in Silver Spring on a Friday morning, Phyllis Harris, 67, a retired sales associate, holds court. A stylist slides a skinny curling iron in and out of her hair, bumping waves into her short, cropped do.

She's a political junkie, don't you know. Watches all those pundits on TV -- the conservatives, the liberals, whatever. Doesn't trust any of them. They just talk, and talk, and talk, and don't know what they're talking about, she says. They don't bother getting out in the streets -- in the beauty salons -- to see what people really think. Pit black folks against Latinos. Stir stuff up that doesn't need to be stirred.

Then there's Clinton. And Obama.

"I think she's going to win," says Harris, who is African American, "because when white people say they're going to vote for him, they get behind the curtain . . . They'll say one thing and do another. That's what they did with Harold Ford in Tennessee. And those Clintons have got tricks up their sleeves. . . .

"But what about Hillary and Obama on the same ticket?" she continues. That, she says, could work. "He should be number two because of his age. . . . But it's not in his psyche to be vice president."

"I'm torn," she says. "I'm torn, because I was on the glass ceiling, too." That experience -- Harris won't discuss details -- makes a woman in the White House a mighty appealing prospect.

"But I might have to go with him," she says, sounding just a little rueful. She steals a look in the mirror at her finished do, pats her head in approval.

"It's our one shot for a black man."

-- Teresa Wiltz

In a Coffee Shop in Downtown Silver Spring

In a downtown Silver Spring coffee shop sits Billy Thompson, 49, reading the newspaper. He is biting his nails and worried: "They don't really want a black man in there," he says. "McCain will probably win the presidency, you know. It will just show racism still exists. I was listening to a radio talk show and they were asking this stupid question: 'Is America ready for a black man?' They are not looking at his qualifications, you know. What kind of question is that? It's amazing. It's amazing. It's amazing. If Hillary wins it, McCain will win. You have to realize everything is set. Of course, McCain is going to win. He's a military man. Put him up against Hillary. He will win."

Someone in a red shirt asks him: But don't polls show the majority of people are against the war, ready for it to end?

"Right now, war is not the priority. The economy is the priority," Thompson says. "You must realize they're not going to run and leave the oil in Iraq. America control the oil, the valve. Did you know that? America control the oil. They have control of the oil in Iraq. America guards it. You think they're going to leave it?"

-- DeNeen L. Brown

At the Omni Shoreham, Washington

"I don't know why I'm a Democrat," Jimmy Stuckey is saying. "I've been a Democrat all my life. My father was a Democrat."

He's at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in the District, where he's part of the clean-up crew, but he's taking a minute to chat with Richard St. Paul about Republicans and race.

St. Paul, 30, a McCain supporter, is running the National Black Republican Association booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference. He wasn't always a Republican. Heck, he once interned in the Clinton White House.

"I believed that the Republican Party was an evil party, that it was an anti-black party," says St. Paul, an attorney from New Rochelle, N.Y. But after reading about the party's anti-slavery history and its economic policies and getting to know more Republicans, "my mind opened up," he says. Same goes for Ken Barnes, another black Republican who joins the conversation.

Stuckey, 56, says he admires the fact that St. Paul has done his own research, hasn't let anyone else tell him how to vote. He says this year he'll be voting for Sen. Barack Obama -- not because the man is a Democrat and not because he's black, but because Obama talks about a new kind of politics, beyond race and beyond partisan divisions. Beyond the "same old, same old."

And now back to the same old, same old: Stuckey has to work.

"I'm going to have to clean up the place in a few minutes," Stuckey tells St. Paul. He calls him "my brother."

They hug.

As Stuckey departs, Barnes calls out: "Keep reading!"

-- Libby Copeland

Outside a K Street Apartment, Northwest Washington

"It's a close-up on his face, and he's not doing anything for literally a minute." Nick Marinakis is talking about those bizarre Mike Gravel videos on YouTube. "Then he goes and picks up a big rock, and throws it in a lake."

He's talking to his friend, Ben Waldin. The two are standing outside of Waldin's K Street NW apartment building and waiting for Super Tuesday guests to arrive. It's a little after 9 p.m.; a few friends are already upstairs drinking beer and watching the primary vote tallies and the unfolding duel between Clinton and Obama.

Downstairs, Waldin and Marinakis talk about how surprising it was that Hillary took Tennessee. And the strangeness of those Gravel videos.

Marinakis is talking about one called "Fire," saying it's even longer and more bizarre, basically just "gravel2008.us" superimposed over some smoldering logs for eight minutes.

"I haven't seen it yet," explains Waldin. He and Marinakis work for an economic consulting firm.

"He said they weren't campaign ads, they were art," says Marinakis. "But they're not, like, that good."

Ellenor O'Byrne arrives. She's another co-worker and party guest.

"Oooh, Gravel ads?" she asks. Marinakis had forwarded her links earlier that day.

Marinakis nods. O'Byrne nods.

"It's weird to think," she says, "that there were other people running for president, too."

-- Monica Hesse

At Towson University Campus, Baltimore County

Laura Toll's got blue plugs for left ears and red plugs for right ears. But don't think this is about politics. The plugs are for hearing tests.

A 24-year-old audiology student at Towson University in Baltimore County, Toll is spending a lot of time on campus, working on her doctoral thesis. She's trying to find a less painful head device for testing children with hearing problems. She's probing pressure -- just how much can people stand?

It's a question that could be asked of a political campaign.

Toll is sympathetic to Democrats. But she says she has yet to cast a vote in her life. And she won't be voting today because she doesn't have the time to research the candidates.

She explains her aversion to snap judgments: "It's a woman. We've never had a woman president. And some people are saying, 'Well, that means we should give her a shot, 'cause she has a vagina.' Whoa! . . . Good Lord! You know? Versus, you know, Barack Obama: 'Oh! He's black!' And people go both ways. 'Oh, he's black, we gotta put him in office!' 'Oh, he's black, we can't.' 'Oh, she's a woman, we gotta put her in office!' 'Oh, she's a woman, we can't.' "

"But wait a second. Alan Keyes is black and nobody voted for him," her boyfriend, Anthony Marchiano, 23, says of the man who challenged Obama in his 2004 Illinois Senate race.

"I have nothing to say about that," Toll responds. "But that is a good point."

-- Christian Hettinger

With a Scuba Diver, Chantilly

If the presidential race were playing out on the ocean floor, "then right now there are three sharks still in the water, of varying species, vying to see who'll get all the fish."

Henry Johnson knows the species well. A diver for most of his 46 years, Johnson is president of Adventure Scuba in Chantilly. He figures that "anybody willing to go down that road to becoming president has got to be a shark."

He's a conservative Republican, a retired U.S. Marine and considers John McCain a shoo-in as the GOP nominee. McCain is most likely to get his vote. Still, Johnson admits being "really excited about Barack Obama. The problem is, what am I excited about? He's about change, but changing what?"

Experience-wise, he considers Obama and Hillary Clinton roughly equal. "She talks about 35 years of experience, but it's not really her experience. . . . Experience through osmosis doesn't cut it."

Hillary as a shark? She's "the great white. Lots of teeth and she smiles at you just before she eats you alive. The bull shark would have to be McCain. Bull sharks are aggressive and they'll just plow right through until they get their way. Obama is a silky. A silky is a sleek, thin, fast-moving shark who sneaks up on you, feels around and checks things out, and if you're not aggressive towards it, it'll come back and bite you."

Rudy Giuliani would have been cast as the quintessential tiger shark ("they'll eat anything") and Mike Huckabee is more "Caribbean reef shark -- just a run-of-the-mill shark doing its job."

As for Mitt Romney, the veteran diver sees him as the next vice president. "He's the barracuda," Johnson says. "He's pulled back and he's waiting, but he knows there's food out there."

-- Tamara Jones

At the Parcel Plus, Reston

Karin Hamilton catches the family dog hungrily eyeing her husband's deli sandwich in the back of their Parcel Plus shop in Reston. Noel Hamilton "is an easy mark," she says with a laugh. And it's not just his lunch up for grabs these days.

Karin is a loyal Republican, "but not a far-right Republican. A menu Republican." After 47 years of marriage, she and Noel follow the campaign avidly and debate the merits of the different candidates, knowing full well they'll likely cancel out each other's vote at the polls.

"I have a couple of friends who just vote whatever the husband votes because they think he knows all about it and he's right no matter what." Her blue eyes flash merrily. " Bulltwinkies."

The war in Iraq is the biggest issue, the spouses agree, followed by balancing the budget. Noel thinks the economy is important, but cyclical, and Karin is "not convinced about global warming" but lists energy resources among her concerns.

Noel feels frustrated by what he sees as a lack of substantive answers from the candidates so far, and he blames the media for not asking tougher questions and letting the politicians "all get away with promising the world."

"The how is what's missing," he says. " How are we going to get ourselves out of Iraq? Obama says $4,000 for every student going to college -- how are we going to do that? Who's going to pay? Just tell us!"

Nonetheless, he finds himself leaning toward Obama, "but for no valid reason."

"And I brought you lunch?" his wife objects.

"Might be my last," he concludes.

-- Tamara Jones

On the Sidewalk, Downtown Silver Spring

It's a big deal, Maria Montero is saying. How big? This big: Even Montero's daughter is into the election. A complete Obama partisan -- at 9 years old.

"She said, 'I like Obama. I like the way he talks,' " Montero reports, sounding pleased beyond words.

She's talking to a colleague, Sylvia Bugg, as they walk through downtown Silver Spring at lunchtime with the wind carrying the melody of a jazzy trumpet from a speaker overhead.

Obama aside, she's delighted that her daughter has made any choice at all, is already getting engaged. At home, the girlish fascination with the senator from Illinois is yielding a harvest of teachable moments -- What's a primary? What's a superdelegate?

"Start 'em young," Bugg replies to her friend.

"We watched the last debate together," Montero says. "She was just mesmerized."

Montero, 40, is a financial analyst, and Bugg, 37, works in television production.

Bugg has noticed how this election has electrified so many young people. The other day, she overheard some young men going on about it outside the Potbelly sandwich place.

"Unlike other elections, this one is ringing so true to a lot of people at so many different levels. . . . So much is at stake," she says. "It's taken it to another generation."

Here we are just in primary season, and people are engrossed, the women say.

They're both for Obama. "I respect Hillary as a leader," Bugg says. "But as a woman I have to look at the big picture. It's not just that she happens to be a woman. Obama would be superior for the country, and it's about change."

"I was on the fence until she still would not back down from her Iraq decision," Montero says.

But Montero can't vote in the primary. She's registered in Maryland as "unaffiliated." Her daughter thinks she has made a huge mistake -- which leads to another teachable moment.

-- David Montgomery

At the On the Rocks bar, Bethesda

Side by side on stools at the On the Rocks bar in the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, just across the street from the White Flint Metro station, Helene Kram and Nancy Shipe crane their necks. They're trying to catch vote totals and polling numbers crawling along the bottom of a TV screen. It's Super Tuesday, night of the national primary. They're looking forward to today's so-called Potomac primary.

They are colleagues at Empress Travel agency in Germantown. Shipe, 59, sips chardonnay; Kram, 69, isn't drinking. "She's my designated walker," silver-haired Shipe says, pointing to her red-haired friend.

"If there's no definitive winner tonight in the Democratic Party," Kram says, "it means the states like Maryland that vote next week will be more likely to determine the nominee."

She says, "I don't have a preference yet. I'm still researching." She's a little hampered because her home computer is down. "I was a Clinton supporter in the beginning -- until Obama came along."

Smiling, she says, "I probably won't make a decision until . . . " She pauses.

"Monday night," her friend says. "At 11:59."

-- Linton Weeks

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