ATLANTA--In Thomasville, North Carolina, some folks wish President Reagan could run for reelection. They like the Gipper, and they aren't too impressed by either of his two possible successors.
Thomasville is a tiny town--population 17 or 18,000--just off of U.S. Highway 85. Thomasville, and North Carolina, have sided with Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party since 1980. This year, however, the polls show that the state is far from a lock for either party, and both Republicans and Democrats are working hard to woo voters in this state--one of those which could fall in the Democrats' column this time around.
This is still Reagan Country, but they're skeptical about the man who served eight years as Reagan's Vice President, George H.W. Bush.
Joy, a high school Spanish teacher and a Reagan loyalist, says she generally votes Republican, but isn't sure she can stomach Bush. "I just don't feel Bush is strong, he's just not a leader," she explains. "I'm afraid Dukakis is going to beat him." And Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis may just get her vote.
Lee, a college student, said she backs Bush "because he's Ronald Reagan's vice president." Other than that, she couldn't come up with any other good reason to back the Republican.
Racism is alive and well in the land of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who defeated his Democratic challenger in 1984 after a racially divisive campaign.
Magdalene, a Reagan supporter in 1984, says she doesn't know who she'll back come November. But if the Democrats back the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, she says she'll vote Republican because, "I still prefer a white President...We need a white to be the leader of our country."
Jackson has won the support of some white liberals, but the folks in Thomasville are still wary. White Democrats rallied behind Sen. Albert J. Gore, Jr. '69 (D-Tenn.) on Super Tuesday, hoping to prevent a Jackson victory in their state.
One man said he'd vote for Bush because he dislikes Dukakis. "I'm afraid he's going to have Jesse Jackson as a running mate and I'm not ready for that," he says.
Helen McCoy was also wary of the Chicago minister and civil rights leader. Helen McCoy is a strong Democrat. "I wouldn't vote for a Republican [even] if I was dying," she maintains. But if Jackson ever garners the nomination, McCoy says she'd abandon the party at the polls.
Both the Republicans and the Democrats are wooing Southern voters: the GOP Convention is being held in New Orleans, while the Democrats are meeting this week in Atlanta. Bush, a nominal Texan, is stressing his Southern roots, while Dukakis has picked a Southerner, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, as his running mate. But the folks down here don't seem impressed.
"It's like pitting the Philadelphia Phillies versus the Atlanta Braves--they're both in the basement," says Harry Neilson, a 60 year-old Republican from Spartanburg, South Carolina.
"Bush has a tough act to follow after Reagan," Neilson says. "I honestly couldn't say who I'd vote for today."
One voter who has made up her mind is Mae Eddinger, a retired school teacher who has spent nearly half a century educating the children of North Carolina.
"I'm a Democrat, I'm a Democrat," Eddinger says. "I voted a split ticket once, and I haven't felt too happy about it." Looking embarrassed, Eddinger admits to having cast a ballot for Richard M. Nixon.
This time she's voting for Dukakis. And Eddinger is one Carolinian who thinks its time for the party to reach out to Jackson and Black voters. "If [Dukakis] has any sense he'll give [Jackson] some kind of position" in his cabinet, she says.