YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- In a Democratic presidential nomination race that pits a black man against a woman, the victor may well be determined by white men.
As the Democratic primary race intensifies, some of these white men are finding it hard to identify with the remaining two candidates, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.
"It seems like someone else should be there," says Dan Leihgeber, a smelter in a steel plant here, who is supporting Sen. Clinton. "It's like there's someone missing."
"I don't think the country is ready for a woman president yet," says Duane Tkac, a burly vocational instructor at a prison here and a member of the local branch of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union. "The country is in too much turmoil. I don't think she can handle the pressure, the terrorists." He plans to vote for Sen. Obama.
Don Pompelia, retired from the Air Force, supports Sen. Clinton. "I'm hoping Hillary gets the nomination. But if she doesn't, I'm not voting for that guy. I'm going Republican," he booms as he picks up his morning coffee at McDonald's. "There are going to be a lot of people crossing over to the Republicans because he's black."
"For a lot of blue-collar guys over 40, Hillary Clinton is a poster child for everything about the women's movement that they don't like -- their wife going back to work, their daughters rebelling, the rise of women in the workplace," says Gerald Austin, an Ohio political strategist.
Mr. Leihgeber, the steelworker, says he supports Sen. Clinton for her experience and positions. He carries a book bag to work every day with his lunch and a newspaper inside and a Clinton button pinned to the outside. Some days, he says, he turns the bag around so the Clinton button doesn't show; he says he doesn't like dealing with his co-workers' derogatory comments. Mr. Leihgeber says he wouldn't be heckled so much for an Obama pin.
Across town, 14 steelworkers brought together to talk about the election say they predominantly supported Sen. John Edwards before he dropped out of the race. Now 13 of them say they are leaning toward Sen. Clinton. They praise her experience and toughness in withstanding the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Former President Bill Clinton remains enormously popular here, with many blue-collar men saying that they like the fact that he would be in the White House as well.
"I think she has the right person in the bedroom with her," says Joe Marion, who works at the local prison.
"I think if we nominate one of these two, we are talking about McCain as president," says Bob Rodkey, a firefighter who doesn't like either candidate but plans to vote for Sen. Clinton in the primary. "I talk to a lot of my Democratic friends and they are going to cross over in November or not vote at all. We don't have a viable candidate. Neither of them is one of us."
Mr. Rodkey says he will vote for a Democrat in the fall. He plans to urge his friends to do the same. "Hopefully they will listen to the message, and not who's delivering it," he says.
So what I'm understanding from all of this is that these particular white men just don't feel like the democratic candidates in this election represent them. All I have to say to them is this: BOO FUCKING HOO. After 43 consecutive white male presidents, is it that much of a thorn in their sides to have to accept the possibilty that a woman or a person of color is capable of running the country? It would be one thing if they had any argument about the candidates' views not matching their own, but it's blatantly obvious that this is not what they mean when they note that "there's someone missing".
(I should note that as an Ohioan, I had sort of an angry knee-jerk reaction to this article for making us look like a state full of backward sexist and racist neanderthals. But despite my defensiveness, I have to admit that these portrayals are not inaccurate. Although there are plenty of intelligent, informed, non-bigots in working-class Ohio, I constantly encounter men -- and even some women -- who fit the descriptions above.)