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Nick and Sean go to Washington: Donuts, baseball bats and Democrats (and Republicans)

With just hours to spare, Sean and Nick head south of the border on election eve to ask Americans about their thoughts on the looming vote. Along the way, a doughnut the size of Nick’s face was consumed, Americanos were had and ice cream was enjoyed. In all, an informative and gastronomically satisfying trip.

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By Sean Evans and Nick Ubels (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: November 7, 2012

With just hours to spare, Sean and Nick head south of the border on election eve to ask Americans about their thoughts on the looming vote.  Along the way, a doughnut the size of Nick’s face was consumed, Americanos were had and ice cream was enjoyed. In all, an informative and gastronomically satisfying trip.

12:16 PM: The U.S. border

Sean: As we approach the border I can’t help but see the vast nation of America glowing bright with the hope of a better tomorrow in the front windshield, while the socialist wasteland that is Canada sits in our rear. The difference between Canada and the United States is immediately seen in the patriotically placed American flags and window signs that line the roads that are spotted with small farms and feed suppliers.

Nick:You know it, Sean. Already I feel like I’m taking in some real, authentic Americana, despite the fact that this predominantly Dutch town greets its visitors with a sign that says, “Welkom to Lynden”.  Romney-Ryan and Obama-Biden signs litter the front lawns of well-kept one stories with tidy gardens. It’s somewhat surreal after talking about this election for so long to suddenly be so immersed in it. Our first stop is a hardware store on the outskirts of town. We park and drink deep the sweet air of freedom. It smells like… burritos?

12:29 p.m.: Mexican food truck just south of the Aldergrove-Lynden border

Sean: Looks like a good place to start – I can always go for a taco. Let’s talk to that lady over there . . .

Mary: My name is Mary and I am basically a horticulturalist and I work at a farm and country store.

Nick: What do you think is the most important issue of this election?

Mary: [Laughs] Well . . . That’s difficult. My main concern is the overall leadership. I know that if I vote for the people in my district, I’ll be represented properly. But, I also have the opportunity to vote for president and vice-president, so I’ve done that, but to be honest, I am not too sure about the two choices I made.

I don’t have medical insurance still. Okay, that’s a big issue for me. I’d have to have another job to have medical insurance here. It’s $790 minimum a month, so that’s a whole other job. But I also want to make sure that our country is maintaining the constitutional rights that we have.

Nick: Mary definitely seems conflicted about her choice in this election. It’s obvious that the outcome will affect her very personally.

Sean: It is very clear that this election really hits home for people. For Mary, she is without medical insurance. That is a very vulnerable place to be. As Canadians, I think we often forget just how fortunate we are to have a medical system that works . . . most of the time.

12:32 p.m.: Lynden Strip Mall 

We pull into the parking lot of a very dated strip mall with a very large, gimmicky, non-working windmill and some serious Andy Griffith Show vibes.

Nick: First target: let’s talk to that guy in the denim overalls grabbing a walker from the back of his ‘89 Le Sabre.

Sean: Would you mind answering a couple questions about the upcoming election?

“Old man Bill”: [Laughs] I don’t have a baseball bat to hit either one of ‘em! That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Sean: Awesome. That was awesome. I think people hit an age where they just stop caring. It seems like dissatisfaction with both candidates may be a common theme we hear today.

Nick: It’s worth noting that the first person we talked to also mentioned that she wished she could vote for a third party candidate. After we stopped recording, she told us that the third party candidate she wanted to vote for wasn’t included on the Whatcom county ballot.

12:38 p.m.: Doris Jean Bakery

Sean: What say we grab a donut and see if anybody there’s willing to share their thoughts?

We enter Doris Jean bakery to find a young guy, maybe in his mid-20s, working behind the counter and an older man sitting in the back. Some light piano jazz is playing and judging from the chairs upended on tables, the place has just recently opened. Nick asks him for an apple fritter and the guy agrees to tell us his take on the presidential election, but withholds his name.

“Carl”: My basic feeling on the election is the electoral college system is horribly outdated. And it’s the main reason why third party candidates don’t stand a chance. And I don’t see any major differences between the Republicans or the Democrats, and in fact, I’m not voting because I don’t care.

They’re both going to steer the country into more debt and more unnecessary and expensive military action and it’s just a question of what kind of debt and war with who, you know? The whole thing is just a dog and pony show, man, it’s pointless.

Sean: If there were a third party candidate, who would it be?

“Carl”: I’m kind of a fan of Ron Paul because he talks about that sort of thing and has his entire career. I mean, I’ve seen footage of him from at least 25 years ago where he’s like, “Hey guys, maybe we shouldn’t be out there policing the world.”

Nick (to the older man): What do you think about all this?

Older man: Politics is bullshit. May the best man win and we’ll find out tomorrow.

Nick (to Sean): Did you want to get anything?

Sean: Uh . . .

12:45 p.m.: En route to Woods coffee shop under the windmill

Nick: We’ve just got out of the donut shop, I got a giant fritter for $2.50,  and we’ve encountered our first person who is definitely not voting. What’s your take Sean?

Sean: Well, I think it’s pretty common for people of that demographic. Younger, probably like 25, working in a doughnut shop.

Nick: Just for the day.

Sean: Just for the day, doesn’t really see much difference in either candidate. Doesn’t see why he should bother. Thinks it’s stupid.

Nick: Wishes he could vote third party but can’t. Wait. Did you see that lady carrying the two coffees? She was wearing a Romney-Ryan pin.

Sean: Really?! Excuse me ma’am, mind sharing your thoughts on the upcoming election?

Nick: First of all, if you could just tell us a little bit about who you are.

Cynthia: My name is Cynthia. I’m 66, I don’t mind saying that. I’m a registered nurse, not working at the moment and a teacher, but best of all I’m the mother of a bea-u-ti-ful daughter named Heather and three lovely grandchildren, yes! And that’s why I moved here from Florida. When your daughter needs you, you can drive 3500 miles. I came as far as Phoebe Judson!

Sean: So tomorrow: what’s the biggest issue, in your mind?

Cynthia: Well, it’s never been an issue in my mind. You see, I’ve made 5000 calls, I don’t mind saying. But for an evangelical, for a Christian, it’s very easy because my intrinsic value systems, which are biblical values and I did teach both the Bible and I did teach American history and our constitution. I have to vote life issues. I have to vote life and who are the two gentlemen that purport life? And I’m talking about life, which I believe starts at conception, and I’m also believing the traditional form of, I believe in Genesis 1 that god ordained as marriage. The issue I believe is proclaiming life back into America. Yes, we have 23 million people out of work. Yes, we have one in seven people or more on food stamps. Do I know that this nation is also designed to be a democracy within a republic? Should we not tamper with the constitution as has been tried? Yes. Do I not want any other foreign law like Sharia being imposed on America? Yes. I can probably name you fifteen reasons: pro-economy . . . I say Sarah Palin was right but they assassinated her character.

I just say it’s time for all the sadness in my heart that’s been in the last four years by a very tainted conscious.

I say to everybody in Canada go see Obama in 2016 and you’ll know why we really don’t want socialism in America or marxist ideology. “Oh my goodness,” you’re probably saying, “why did we ever talk to this woman?”

How Washington voters decided in 2008

Nick: What’s the atmosphere like in Washington? It’s typically more of a blue state.

Cynthia: Washington is the first state that legalized abortion so I don’t look to the ways of man, especially in this day. … Believe it or not, in my early 20s, I was a card-carrying feminist so I understand their rationale.

… The military, I can tell you, north south west east is not happy. If nothing else I’m hoping in a 24-hour prayer, get that man out. He’s not bold like you, he won’t look you in the eye. Get him out of that office as commander-in-chief of our armed forces.

12:56 p.m.: Walking in the parking lot away from Cynthia

Sean: My thoughts are: “You’re transcribing that one.”

Nick: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah.

Sean: That is incredible. She is red, through and through, and would not stop. She was walking away and would not stop. She just thought of another thing. But what a difference between her and the 25-year-old who could not care less.

Nick: No kidding. Or even the woman we talked to at the burrito stand who was very shy. Although, I mean, she lived in Canada forty years. This is a woman from Florida.

Sean: She tells it like it is, or how she thinks it is.

Nick: She mentioned the economy, too, but it wasn’t her big thing.

Sean: She said yes, there’s 23 million people out of work, one in seven are still on food stamps, but there’s bigger issues than that. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of voters that are like that, or a lot of independent voters that are like that because they’re going to vote on what the issue is.

Nick: And if you’re out of work . . .

Sean: That’s the issue.

Nick: Who’s going to get you back to work?

Sean: At this point, are there any undecided voters left? Really? I don’t think so.

Nick: Undecideds basically aren’t voting.

Sean: The non-voter.

1:00 P.M. The laundromat

After grabbing a couple Americanos from Woods Coffee, we set out in search of some more folks to talk to. Along the way, we see the latest USA Today with a strange, minimalist blue circle for its new logo and a cover headline that reads: “Swing states 48 – 48”. Things are close. We decide to try our luck at the laundromat, where a younger guy and an older man with sunglasses and a white goatee we’d earlier seen arriving on an electric bike are doing their wash. We hope the location will add some character and that we can get some debate going. We weren’t wrong on both counts.

Nick: So it turns out people at the laundromat don’t exactly want to be recorded.

Sean: [Laughs] Note that the guy with the bike at the laundromat informed Nick to not come any closer. And he told us that he wanted 20 bucks to talk.

Nick: And the other guy didn’t want to be recorded, but he hoped they would move the economy forward.

Sean: Which, you should note, is exactly Barack Obama’s slogan: “Move Forward.”

Nick: Is he saying he’s voting for Obama? I can’t tell.

Sean: Some veiled hints there.

Nick: I feel like we probably encountered some apathetic voters there. Or cynical non-voters.

Sean: Cynical non-voters that are doing their laundry on Monday afternoon.

Nick: Don’t want to be bothered. That’s a shame, I just had this idea of us starting a great conversation in the laundromat.

Sean: You had an idea of a Seinfeld laundromat.

Nick: I think we kind of hit the pinnacle with the badge-wearing woman.

We talk to a few more people gathered around the strip mall before finally deciding to hit the road, having exhausted that resource.

1:08 p.m.: Driving down Front street

We stop in front of a house that catches our attention. There are about a dozen signs on the lawn, the windows are filled with Obama/Biden signs and it is all topped off by a homemade sign that reads: “For every sign stolen, a donation is made to the Obama campaign. Thanks for the support!”

Nick: Should we go talk to them?

Sean: Go, Nick.

Nick: Can we park here? Oh man . . . Let’s do some door knocking. Here we go.

[Knocking. Man answers door]

Nick: Hi there, we’re from a Canadian university newspaper and we saw your signs. We were wondering if we could ask you some questions about the campaign?

Matt: Should we let them in? Sure, come on in.

Maria: You don’t want to talk to him [pointing to man]. This is my brother, he is wonderful, but he’s a conservative and a Republican.

Nick: Must make for an interesting dynamic.

Sean: How are holidays?

Maria: Holidays are fine, it’s just the elections…

Nick: So, in your mind [Maria], what’s at stake in this election?

President Barack Obama speaking at the University of Washington in 2010

Maria: What’s at stake in this election? Well, I am a postal worker and the GOP platform, on page 25, Mitt Romney has outlined very clearly that they want to privatize the postal service. So my job is on the line. They want to privatize the postal service so places like the independent mailing places—FedEx, UPS—can take over and start a business with the post office’s footprint. For me, my job and my future is at stake. Also, I think that the economy is at stake. We’ve got two different candidates who are going to go about it two very different ways, and I believe the way President Obama is going about it is the right way. I think its very interesting that they have Bill Clinton around going and promoting Obama everywhere, but you don’t see President Bush anywhere for Romney. And, I just have to wonder what the reason is for that.

Nick: You think its sort of telling that they are keeping him out of the spotlight?

Maria: I think its very telling, yeah. I do. I don’t  want to have to go to another war; my son went to Iraq and was injured there. I don’t want us to go to another war, and I have no doubt in my mind that if Romney is elected we will end up in Syria or Pakistan. I have no question in my mind about that.

And marriage equality is a very, very big issue in my mind. My husband and I have many dear friends, and they have got to be allowed to get married. I have weddings to dance at, right? Its just got to be. It is bigotry, no matter who it’s against.

Nick: What have you thought of the campaign over the last couple months?

Maria: It’s disgusting.

Nick: Yeah?

Maria: I’ve been off work, so I’ve been phone banking, canvassing, leafleting, doing anything. I mean, I put my money where my mouth is. And, its just, the ads are so disgusting. People are under-educated—by-and-large, people are very uninformed—but they’ll take the time to argue with you and yell at you. I just finally said, “I don’t want to hear anything from you unless you’ve donated to a campaign, unless you’ve gone door-belling, unless you’ve phoned, leafleted . . . If you haven’t done anything, then you obviously don’t care enough.” I mean, who can’t donate $3?

Sean: So what are your expectations for tomorrow?

Maria: I am expecting a lot of people at my house  to celebrate! [Laughs] I hope we’ll see the results; I think South Florida is going to pull through for Obama, I hope Wisconsin does, but I am not sure. I hope beyond hope that Michelle Bachmann gets run out of town on a stick, or at least out of office. I think it is going to be a tight race, but I am hopeful Obama is going to win.

Nick: What’s the atmosphere like in Washington State?

Maria: Depends where you go in Washington. I’ve been phone-banking all over, and I mean, Bellingham is really progressive. Whatcom County is, I mean, I’ve had signs stolen out of my yard so many times I can’t count. That’s why I have the sign above my door [warning about donations made for missing signs]. People in this area are generally conservative. But someone came to my door one day and said “hey, I saw your signs, do you want to come to a meeting of the Lynden Democrats?” I said, ‘“there’s Democrats in Lynden?!” [Laughs]. There were almost 20 of us.

I think Washington is going to go Obama, obviously, but there are some pretty die-hard Republican areas, rural areas, that are always going to hold out.

Nick: What do you think about the proposition to legalize marijuana?

Maria: You know, its funny, I’ve been saying for years to anybody who will listen to me that it will free up…our jails are so crowded, our courts are so backed up and the police are overworked. Why arrest somebody, put him through all this, and who knows how much it costs, and of course there is going to have to be a public defender, because no one is going to hire an attorney, all for walking around with a joint or two in their pocket? Its ridiculous. I want proposition 502 to pass, absolutely.

1:50 p.m.: Ed & Aileen’s before the Sumas border crossing

We say our farewells to Matt and Maria and hit the dusty road to the Sumas border crossing. We grab a couple ice cream cones at Ed & Aileen’s Dairy and call it a day. Despite only spending a few hours south of the border, we’ve encountered first hand what feels like a fairly representative variety of takes on American politics.

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