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Election 2012: Issues, not history or race, come to forefront for many concerned for state of country

Four years ago, excitement about a charismatic Barack Obama was visible and almost palpable, as young and veteran voters rallied behind the man they believed would bring hope and change.

And then there was the historic aspect of it, the fact that Obama was the first black man to be within reach of the White House.

But four years later, is the excitement still there? Have issues overtaken personalities? Is the electorate simply tired of campaigning?

Democrat Frances Bailey said she believes the enthusiasm about the current race is actually the same, but that it’s not as obvious because the focus is different.

“Then, there was more visible excitement because it was a first,” she said. “I think we are still excited about it — it may just not be as visible.”

Now, she said, people are focusing more the economy and foreign policy.

Local activist Jacqueline Marsaw said the historic nature of the 2008 election and the current one are not lost on many with whom she has spoken.

“How many more times will we have a black president?” she said.

But like Bailey, Marsaw said she has heard more people talking about other issues, and that voters are concerned about the potential cuts to social programs like Medicare and college grants a new administration might make.

Those concerns, Marsaw said, drove many to register to vote at voter registration drives she participated in earlier this fall.

But even while the focus of the election has shifted to policy issues, which voter Wilbur Johnson Sr. said needed to be examined, Johnson said he feels the election cycle has dragged on for too long and too much money has been spent in it.

“It is nerve-wracking,” he said.

Marsaw said she thinks of the last four years as one long continuation of the 2008 campaign.

“As soon as (President Obama) was in, people started asking who was going to run against him?” she said. “There was a lot of interest in that on the Republican side, so it never really ended.”

Republican Pat Dickens doesn’t deny that. She has been waiting four years to vote for Mitt Romney.

“I thought he was a good candidate (in 2008), although he was not the candidate we got,” she said. “Now I feel good (about Romney), and I think we got the best candidate we could possibly get.”

The issues of the election for Dickens, she said, are the economy, the country’s defense and unemployment.

“We have people who have given up hope (of finding a job),” Dickens said. “And we have countless numbers of young college graduates, and they have no place to work.”

Sue Stedman, chair of the local Republican party, agrees that the most important issue facing the country is getting people back to work.

“When you’ve got as many people who are out of work as we do and people who have given up because they can’t find work, I think we need a president who can get people back to work,” Stedman said.

Stedman said she is voting for Romney because she is concerned about the state of the country, particularly the financial situation, and what direction the country is headed in if President Obama is re-elected.

“I think a lot of people are concerned about the financial situation,” she said. “When you have a robust economy, it just solves so many problems and alleviates so many issues.”

But for first-time voters, this election isn’t about the one four years ago and isn’t something of which they’ve become tired.

Instead, it’s an opportunity to fulfill a responsibility and stand up to be Americans, something they’ve learned about for more than a decade now.

For Natchez High School seniors Whitney Jackson and Damian Washington, voting in the upcoming election is a chance for them to participate.

“We are given this right, and it is important we use this right to make our voices heard,” said Washington, the son of Ladine and Francis Washington.

Jackson said it was important to her to have a say in who becomes president.

“I feel like it is time to exercise my right to vote and make a decision on who I want to run my country,” Jackson said.

With college right around the corner, Jackson and Washington said education was a major issue for them.

“Education is most important, because I will be an incoming freshman in college next year,” said Jackson, the daughter of Jerrilyn Banks and Elston “Van” Jackson.

Washington said he was also concerned about the future of the economy and employment.

“Education is important,” Washington said. “But I also want to see more jobs available.”

The students said watching the debates and reading about the candidates online has helped them learn about the candidates and the issues.

Election Day is Nov. 6. Absentee voting is ongoing in Adams County and early voting will end Tuesday in Concordia Parish.

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