Nation & World

Obama pays uneasy visit to a N. Carolina barbecue joint

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — When Sen. Barack Obama entered a barbecue joint here to greet dozens of people eating lunch after church services on Sunday, Diane Fanning, 54, who works at a Sam's Club, began yelling, "Socialist, socialist, socialist — get out of here!"

It was unclear whether Obama heard her in the noisy restaurant, but others clearly did. One man standing next to Fanning, Lenox Bramble, 76, flashed an angry look at her. "Be civil, be courteous," he admonished her.

Another woman, Cecilia Hayslip, 61, yelled back at Fanning, "At least he's not a war-monger!"

It was a visit that underscored how divided North Carolina voters are with two weeks to go before the election.

Bramble said he wouldn't vote for Obama because he didn't think Obama had enough experience. Bramble's wife, Kit, 75, said Obama "was very nice" but that she'd been a conservative Republican since Barry Goldwater's era and wouldn't vote for Obama either.

Fanning said she'd heard Colin Powell had endorsed Obama but that "Colin Powell is a RINO, R-I-N-O, Republican In Name Only."

Later, Obama came to the long table where Fanning and other members of a local First Presbyterian church were gathered. He held out his hand to her to shake it and asked, "How are you, ma’am?" but she declined to shake.

He spoke at length with many of the others at the long banquet table, however, and got a much friendlier reception as he spoke about health care, taxes and social security. Betty Waylett, 76 and a Republican, said she'd vote for him. "You're doing a great job," she said.

Pastor Randal Bremer, also at the table, said Obama told him asked for his prayers and said "I'm very impressed by his ability to meet people on a down-to-earth level." But he's voting for Republican John McCain, mostly because he prefers smaller government and McCain's position on the Iraq war.

But Obama did have some successful conversion. Mike Long, 33, a first-time voter in furniture sales, said that after talking with Obama about health care, he’d gone from less than 50 percent likely to vote for him to "98 percent" likely.

Sheila Evans, 39, who is biracial, told Obama, "I'm so proud of you."

But some of the other older white diners looked surprised and slightly uncomfortable as Obama stopped at their tables to shake hands.

A group of six retired women said they were mostly Democrats – but undecided about how to vote. "I have to pray about it, think about what's best for our country,” said Dorothy Buie, one of the women.

Obama ordered some food to go for himself and his aides. They ordered chicken, collards, baked beans, slaw and wings. The tab was $13.91. The visit lasted about a half hour.