Rural Residents Unsure They're Part of Obama's America

To many people of Brinkley, Arkansas - a community that voted overwhelmingly in 2008 for Republican presidential nominee John McCain (Ariz.) -- President-elect Barack Obama's election to the White House marks a period of uncertainty for rural America.
By Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009

BRINKLEY, Ark. -- Wayne Loewer's truck reveals a lot about his life. A 12-gauge shotgun for duck hunting rests on the floorboard. A blue thermal lunch bag containing elk meat is shoved under the seat, left in haste that morning by his teenage son rushing to catch the school bus.

Binoculars in the console help Loewer scan his 2,900 acres of rice, soybeans and corn.

The dashboard radio is set to classic rock, playing the same Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes from Loewer's high school days, when Brinkley was still a thriving small town with stores and a movie theater.

His muddy truck is 900 miles from the kiosks crowding Pennsylvania Avenue selling "Hope Won" T-shirts. But more than miles separate Loewer from the coming celebration in Washington over Barack Obama's inauguration as president.

The 52-year-old farmer is a conservative Democrat who bet on Republican John McCain and lost, a description that would apply to many in the white South. Now Loewer wonders about his place in Obama's America.

"I'm worried that he's not gonna understand the rural way of life," he says.

On this cold January day, Loewer makes his morning rounds -- the irrigation company, the seed distributor, a well supplier -- and everywhere he goes, the same anxieties are expressed.

"That comment he made about guns and religion, it's frightening, you have to admit," says the secretary at his accountant's office.

Loewer agrees. "I don't believe in going around with a gun strapped to your hip, Wild West-style," he says. "But you ought to be able to protect yourself."

He understands the cultural chasm between him and Obama's Ivy League, biracial, global polish. He realizes he is set apart from the 53 percent majority that put Obama in the White House.

Loewer is not bitter. He is eager to see how Obama will govern.

Still, on the eve of the inauguration, a sense of apprehension prevails in a place that rejected the new president and now warily awaits his version of America.

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