Top of Mind for Voters in Midterm Battlegrounds? Faith, the Deficit and Civil Rights
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because these are the people who will decide the election.
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Yahanseh George, 44, Forsyth County, Georgia
In the early 1990s, Yahanseh George was homeless, with multiple children and little hope. In one of his low moments, security kicked him off a downtown Atlanta property when he was caught eating a slice of pizza out of a trash can. Now George runs his own security company based in the affluent Buckhead neighborhood, with 11 employees across the city — including a few at the property he once was shunted off. “This is how God works,” he says.
Just last year, George was baptized in the Catholic Church amid a clergy sex abuse scandal and despite his own experience being molested by a religious camp counselor as a child. And five years ago, he quit the Democratic Party, saying leaders told him to stop talking about his pro-life stances and his belief in God because it “offends some of their base.”
As the nation looks to Georgia for a potentially history-making governor contest — former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams could become America’s first Black female governor, if she defeats Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp — race has been a central issue. Abrams says Kemp has suppressed minority votes, while Kemp argues Democrats are playing identity politics. George leans toward thinking the latter. “They are already saying Brian is racist because he is running against a Black woman,” the Kemp supporter says.
It’s part of a victimhood mentality, says George, who is active in the conservative #WalkAway movement trying to convince Black Democrats to switch parties. “I don’t care what the Democrats have told you about the White man holding you down,” George says. “If you believe in God like I do, you know life is hard — for everyone, regardless of skin color.”
Paul Harris, 62, St. Louis
Raised by a single mom of three kids living in a $50-per-month apartment, Paul Harris remembers being “so poor we didn’t know we were poor.” But he did well in school, started out as a marketing analyst and worked for a few pharmaceutical companies before retiring in south St. Louis. “I was always ultra-cautious with money,” he says.
But when he sees the federal government spending his taxes, he doesn’t see the same type of care. “Taxes keep ballooning, the rising deficit — I would rather see people invest their own money,” Harris says. If Bernie Sanders had become president, he adds, we “would have had four to eight years left” as a country.
While a libertarian at heart, he doesn’t think the socially liberal, fiscally conservative party is competitive enough. And so although he voted for Democratic peanut farmer Jimmy Carter for president back in the day, his mindset has shifted toward Republicans, including Attorney General Josh Hawley, running for U.S. Senate here in Missouri. He disagrees with Hawley in some areas — he thinks he should promise to more aggressively reform “entitlement programs” such as Social Security — but Harris believes it’s also important to vote Republican to protect President Donald Trump.
“What happens if the Democrats take the House is that President Trump will almost certainly be impeached,” he says. “All the things you’ve seen on loosening regulations, making tax breaks and putting more money in your pocket won’t happen until after the 2020 elections.”
Elvera Locklear, 69, Lumberton, North Carolina
In 1958, Elvera Locklear’s father, a farmer, was among the band of Lumbee tribe members who ran the Ku Klux Klan out of Robeson County — drawing worldwide headlines. Today, Locklear looks around America at rising incidents of hate and concludes: “They are trying to start up that same stuff again.” The retired teacher and principal has driven up to Fayetteville on this sunny morning to witness another veteran of a turbulent time: Rep. John Lewis of Georgia is rallying Democrats to get out and vote for local candidates including Dan McCready, who’s running in one of the closest congressional races in the country.
Lewis was beaten and jailed numerous times during his decorated career as a civil rights leader, most notably in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. His message on campus at Fayetteville State University, a historically Black school, is that no one should take the right to vote for granted, given the blood spilled to obtain it. Locklear found the brief speech “fantastic,” but she points out a big difference between now and the 1960s: “Today, everyone has a gun.” Unlike many of her fellow Democrats, Locklear believes this is a good thing because racist bullies are less likely to pick on someone who’s packing.
But Locklear’s weapon of choice is the ballot. “It just sort of seems like our country is going bananas in the past couple of years,” she says. “And we won’t move forward if we don’t get out and vote.”
Pinny Sheoran, 65, Scottsdale, Arizona
Even as she reaches senior-citizen status, Pinny Sheoran is as energized as ever. Presiding over six volunteers from the liberal activist group Indivisible, getting ready to phone-bank — and an eager black Labrador retriever — it’s clear she’s the leader. Her kitchen table is littered with postcards, markers and plates of cheese and crackers.
Sheoran and her husband migrated to the U.S. from India and registered with the Democratic Party the day they gained citizenship because it was “the only party that consistently supported public education as a means of raising all boats,” she says. Sheoran had an expensive, elite education in India. She understands both what privilege brings, and the impact of not having it.
Small in stature but firm in tone, she’s a force to be reckoned with. She proudly says she’s voted in every election, which has become ritual for her family. After her children got their driver’s licenses, they had access to a car only after showing her their voter registrations. You become a citizen in a country because you want a voice, she says.
In the primaries, Sheoran votes her conscience, but in general elections, she votes strategy. She supported social activist Deedra Abboud in the U.S. Senate primary (she won about 20 percent of the vote) and has never been a fan of Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic nominee and a three-term congresswoman with a fairly moderate record. Still, Sheoran plans to hold her nose and vote for Sinema.
Voice rising, Sheoran makes it clear she wants that Democratic seat in the Senate more than anything. To her, this is the only way to make sure the agenda focuses on issues like health care and the climate, integrity and commitment to U.S. allies. “I don’t want just a blue wave; I want a tsunami,” Sheoran says. “Because that’s what it’s going to take to clean this up.”
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