USA - VOTE 2008

Phoenix: McCain's stomping ground

FRANCE 24 special correspondent Marie Valla reports from Phoenix, the capital of Arizona and headquarter of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.



Also read reporter Leela Jacinto's notebook from Chicago.



Never too young to get involved

Tuesday, Nov 4, 2008

Three hours before the polls close in Phoenix, Democratic and Republican volunteers were still going strong. In both headquarters, there were people calling the last undecided voters, urging them to get their vote out before it's too late.

Lines thinned outside most polling stations in the course of the afternoon, but there were still shows of support across the city.

A good number of the cars driving along Central just north of Indian School Street were honking at the sight of young people holding signs that urged to “Honk for Obama” and “Barack and Roll.”

Nothing special there except that Ben Diego, Katie Sample, Ella Delmonaco and her brother Ed, and Abby Vanbianen are 14-year-olds and freshmen at a local vocational art school.

“We can’t vote but we want to get other people to vote,” said Diego.

The students, who were excused by their school to carry out their ‘civic duty’, launched a Young Democrats chapter at school and voted Diego and Vanbianen as their president and VP.

“We’ve been keeping up with the election because of the effects it can have on our daily lives and families,” said Diego.  So they volunteered time to the Obama campaign, doing phone banking on their spare time. John F. Kennedy, who famously once said “Don’t ask what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country,” would have been proud.

As with their elders, economy comes first on their list of concerns. “What’s going to happen to our college savings?” said Ed Delmonaco. “My parents already lost $25,000 because of the financial crisis,” Diego said. Both agree that you can’t beat Obama’s economic plan.

Photo: France 24

Iraq is another of their concerns. “I don’t want to end having to go to war in Iraq,” Diego said. “I have cousins who went off to Iraq,” added Sample.

Asked whether they thought their champion could win tonight, they said they didn’t want to get overconfident. “I heard on NBC that you’re not a Democrat if you don’t think Obama can mess up in the election and that resonated with me,” Diego said.

Guess what. Ben Diego wants to become a senator.



McCain's Phoenix hotdogs

Monday, Nov 3, 2008


Barack Obama's adult life may be weaved into the fabric of Chicago, but John McCain's relationship with Phoenix is of another kind. McCain and Arizona’s largest city come in contact only so often, when the US senator isn't in Washington D.C. where he reportedly spends his weeks.

McCain made Phoenix his home in the early 1980s when he married local heiress Cindy Hensley. Since then, the couple have developed their real estate empire and McCain has quite a few other retreats to choose from.

When asked during the campaign how many houses he and his wife owned, his mind went blank. "I think - I'll have my staff get to you," he told the reporter. The press estimates they have at least seven in Arizona but also in Virginia and California.

So looking for McCain's public hangouts in Phoenix is a slightly frustrating exercise. But there is one place Senator McCain drops by from time to time, a shingle-covered shack at the corner of 7th Street and East Claremont called The Great Dane's Doghouse.

Leaning over the cluttered counter on which sits a towering Great Dane statue, owner Hildie Rigoli points to a small table set back from the room. McCain has been eating there for about as long as Rigoli has been in charge of the joint. That's 22 years. "But I'm not a friend," she stresses.

With its sturdy dark wood plank tables and benches, the place is authentically retro with a western twist. At 3 pm on a weekday, it is quiet. But it's a good business, Rigoli says.

McCain is an "intermittent regular." His Arizona headquarters are just a short drive away. One of the last times Rigoli saw McCain, the senator was being interviewed at a local radio station. Rigoli ran over with a hot dog. "He was embarrassed," she recalls. "He wanted to pay."

His favourite is the $4.20 Chili Dog: a grilled sausage on a hot steamed bread, tomato slices, onions, pickle and a generous dose of chili. Not the spicy sauce, though, but a thick mix of tomatoes and beans.

Photo: France 24

The impression the senator gives, as drawn by Rigoli, a lively but soft-spoken native Argentinean, is one of polite but strict reserve. "He's friendly but he talks dry," she says. That's unlike his wife Cindy, whom Rigoli calls "very soft." "That's what makes a couple," she chuckles.

It apparently didn't take a lot of hot dogs for Rigoli to be convinced to throw her support behind McCain's White House bid. Based on what she knows of him, his personality and his wealth are the guarantees that he'd make a good president. "He's not looking for publicity," she says. "He wouldn't steal because he has enough money."

Photo: France 24

"I heard a very disturbing comment," she adds. "I heard that if he were elected, McCain would go back to the people who captured him [Vietnam, where McCain spent five and a half years in captivity]. But that's really untrue."

On the contrary, she argues, McCain's not the kind of man to carry grudges: "He talks like you tell a kid: 'Grow up. Forget about it. It's over.' That's what I like about him."

If you want proof of this, check out the menu that says 'Hot Dogs - Chicago style." The fact that his current adversary hails from Chicago doesn't stop McCain from enjoying those hot dogs once in a while.




In Phoenix, election fever is hardly at a pitch


Sunday, Nov 2, 2008


Seen from France, the US presidential election campaign gives the impression of having taken over everybody’s lives in the United States these last few months. Looked at from Phoenix, Arizona, this same excitement and intensity seem glaringly absent.


Nothing at all in the neighborhood around the hotel where we are based gives any inkling that we are three days away from the culmination of a historic campaign between Barack Obama, the first black U.S. presidential candidate ever and John McCain, a white presidential candidate whose greatest challenge has been to convince everyone that you can be Republican without following in the steps of George W. Bush.


There are no giant posters with the candidates’ names on them. Nothing bearing the slogans of the two campaigns. As you delve further into residential neighborhoods, you see only small posters on the grass supporting various councilmen and women for the local administration or school commission – a reminder that November 4 is not just the day Americans elect a president but also a whole panoply of local officials.


“In Arizona, McCain is at home. People already know him,” explains Akemy Flores, a staffer at Mi Familia Vota, an organization that promotes the importance of the vote among the Latin community. “The people who have already voted in previous elections already know how and for who they are going to vote.”


No doubt, also, people here have more pressing concerns. While following staffers and volunteers of Mi Familia Vota during their neighborhood rounds in search of new Latino voters, it was not mailboxes full of campaign literature that I saw as much as huge padlocks across door handles.


A padlock, I was told, signifies that the apartment or house has been foreclosed. Phoenix has been hit hard by the subprime crisis after years of record growth. Seen from France, subprime is a dirty word. Here, it means a long line of personal tragedies.


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