The economy might be on the skids and the nation at war, but across Spokane there was reason for hope on Election Day, a feeling that the nation had come to a crossroads in history.
At union halls, coffee shops and a college campus Tuesday, voters expressed a sense of optimism, a belief that America has never been so down that it can’t get back up.
“We’ve always bounced back,” said Bob Strader who, as he does most weekdays, had coffee with his buddies at a North Division restaurant.
Having lived through a depression and served in a world war, Strader, an 83-year-old retiree from the Washington state Department of Transportation, is able to put hard times in perspective.
“We’ve had bad presidents before, and we survived,” said Strader, who hinted he voted Republican.
Then again, some fixes take longer than others, said his friend, Bob Town, 80, who felt it was his duty to vote, if for no other reason than to nullify Strader’s.
“Things are in a hell of a mess,” Town said. “It’s not going to be straightened out in one term.”
Up the street at the Teamsters Building, Local 690 president Val Holstrom said things are worse now than he’s seen in a while – what with the national debt, free trade agreements and letting Mexican truckers ply U.S. highways. The way Holstrom sees it, all these things have resulted in the loss of American jobs.
“Regardless of who the new president is, he must have a commitment to the American middle class,” Holstrom said.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters endorsed Barack Obama for president.
At the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local 238, field representative Dave Hawkins said his union looks at the things candidates can do to help members put food on the table.
“Lately that’s been Democrats,” Hawkins said.
Local 238 has 1,000 members, so there’s going to be a difference of opinion on a variety or issues from gun control to abortion, he said. One thing they can all agree on is the state of their pocketbooks.
McCain plans to tax health care and he backs right to work laws, Hawkins said.
“Obama said he is going to put money in the infrastructure,” Hawkins said. “What better way to stimulate the economy and create good-paying jobs in America?”
At the headquarters for U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, campaign director Jared Webley said he was feeling pretty good about his boss’ chances.
Webley said campaign workers were busy “contacting our base and reminding them to turn in their ballots” on Tuesday.
While he said Republicans were excited about McMorris Rodgers and gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi’s chances in the elections, he described the presidential race as “a crapshoot.”
Regardless of how the top ballot race turns out, Webley said, “tonight will be a turning point” in American history.
At the nearby Democratic headquarters, volunteer Sharon Smith agreed with Webley on the historic nature of Tuesday’s elections.
Locally, Smith said, it’s hard to gauge what will happen in the first totally vote-by-mail presidential election in Spokane County.
She and other volunteers were busy keeping track of which Democratic voters had already cast their ballots in the county and were calling those who had not.
“This is a year none of us can judge,” said Smith, a former county Democratic Party chairwoman. At Gonzaga University’s Cataldo Hall, dozens of students were watching televised election coverage on a big screen courtesy of the Gonzaga Student Body Association.
Stephanie Rokich, a senior in public relations and an event organizer, said the election has motivated youth like few others.
“Young people are really excited to be involved,” Rokich said.
Dominque Remy, a senior in marketing and broadcast, said that the Obama candidacy has given youth reason to believe that their votes count.
“For the first time, people have a trust in the political process,” he said.
Raymond Reyes, a Gonzaga vice president for intercultural relations, coined a term for what students like Rokich and Remy were feeling.
“A passion for the possible,” Reyes called it, the sense that the individual is participating in a critical moment in the nation’s history.
Chuck Skirko, president of the Gonzaga College Republicans, agreed that there is excitement in this election, though he believes students have been “hoodwinked” by Obama.
“It’s much easier for a college student to fall in line with the liberal left,” Skirko said, but there also is “a large contingency of pro-life Democrats” on the campus of the Jesuit college who won’t vote for Obama, he said.
“Regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on, it’s really exciting to see people politically engaged,” Skirko said.
Meanwhile, at the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza, one of several voter service centers set up throughout the county, election workers had assisted 362 voters by 1 p.m.
Among them was Danielle Mansanarez, an Eastern Washington University student who had not received her ballot from King County.
“I’m ready for the election to be over,” said Mansanarez, who at 18 years old, was not about to miss out on the first election in which she was eligible to vote.