WASILLA, Alaska — The Great Bear Brewery is famous for its “good beer, good chow, good company.”
At least that is what Chris, a taxi driver who came here from South Carolina in the ’80s, said.
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Inside the bar, big families and bearded men enjoyed hearty, fist-sized burgers served on sack cloth tables covered in plastic. On the surface, there is little to distinguish Great Bear from other local stops in Wasilla — the hometown of Gov. Sarah Palin (now the Republican vice presidential nominee) and the geographic focal point of her supporters.
That is, until you listen to what the people are saying.
At a nearby table on a quiet Saturday night, this reporter overheard a young, blond boy put forth his opinion: “Obama murders people.”
“No,” corrected his mother. “Babies.”
Glancing at her husband, she added, “He’s turning into a little Republican. It’s his school teacher.”
“Look, Obama says it’s okay to murder children,” the husband answered back.
The table fell silent. Until, that is, the couple’s daughter asked for a Sarah Palin birthday cake. Her birthday is on Tuesday — Election Day.
“Or maybe McCain and Palin?” the child asked.
Wasilla has seen marked progress over the past 10 years — progress that residents here ascribe to their former mayor, Palin. Most of the town’s population, said they would be voting for Palin come Tuesday. Brittany, a high-school-aged employee of the Moose Mocha Company and a keen supporter of Palin, summed up the sentiment in the town.
“I don’t think here in Wasilla there’s any fear of [Obama winning the presidency],” she said. “I know in Anchorage there’s a lot of Democrats … but here, there’s a lot of people that support her — people have known her for years.”
At the Mug-Shot Saloon, which is a block away from the Great Bear Brewery, signs facing the freeway to Anchorage congratulate the Palins for their work in the election. Almost everyone interviewed here speaks of her in superlatives.
Ted Anderson, a friend of Palin’s and the owner of the tavern, was counting quarters Saturday afternoon. Much of Wasilla’s new wealth, he said, was due to Palin.
“She got the new sports complex built … and now Wasilla’s growing — the roads and everything — there’s a lot of improvement,” he explained.
He said Palin was also a reformer during her time as mayor.
“She broke up the good old boy network … she got rid of a chief of police that I also thought was overbearing,” he added.
Other patrons of the bar were equally enthusiastic.
Jim “Klondike” Flatley, a club owner who ran a few fundraisers for Palin while she was mayor, said her appeal lies in the fact that she is “an everyday middle-class person that you can talk to,” as he put it.
“She has nothing to do with any uppity stuff,” he said, citing her strong stance against the oil companies, which many Alaskans see as draining the state’s wealth.
Others interviewed said they were worried that an Obama presidency might heavily tax small businesses. Wasilla, after all, is only just starting to see big businesses like Wal-Mart come to town. Most of the shops here — which sell jewelry, military stickers and yarn, for example — are small places, hybrids between frontier general stores and new-age curio shops.
Despite the overwhelming support for Palin in Wasilla, three local employees said while they were not supporters of Palin. (The three individuals insisted on anonymity for fear of isolation from the community.)
“I’d rather Joe Biden was president, he’s the one that’ll be running the show,” said a young woman. “Sarah Palin is conniving and sneaky.”
Another man in his 20s, who had recently moved to Wasilla from Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage, expressed his distaste for the political system.
“I wish Ron Paul was still on the ticket,” he said. “I ain’t voting for no one-party system.”
Late Halloween night, 45 miles away in Anchorage, in the city’s only gay bar, Mad Myrna’s, some confirmed this sentiment. Among the twirling dancers dressed up as cops, vampires and even the Governor herself, an openly gay hairdresser — who only identified himself as Miguel — made a lewd, dismissive gesture when asked about Palin.