PHOENIX — On North Central Avenue here in Arizona’s capital, there is still a large blue billboard advertising John McCain’s 2004 Senate re-election campaign.
Just across the street from that sign Tuesday morning was a throng of ninth graders who had taken the day off from their local charter school. They held signs of their own, albeit much smaller and made with multicolored markers.
“Honk for Barack” was the main message, and for a state that re-elected McCain with 77 percent of the vote in 2004, quite a few cars were honking. While McCain was defeated in the overall presidential election, he carried his home state’s 10 electoral votes with around 54 percent of the vote.
Still, Gabbie, one of the 15-year-olds clutching to several signs at once, estimated that around a third of passing cars were honking yesterday — some with a quick toot, others with a long blare. An engineer testing one of Phoenix’s new light rail cars, set to enter operation in December, sounded its horn for nearly a minute.
Most vehicles passed by without acknowledging the group, but the signs visibly annoyed some of McCain’s supporters here in his home state. In just one 10-minute period, this reporter observed three drivers raise a middle finger to the crowd; one man in a white Kia SUV raised both of his middle fingers.
A few miles away at Madison Middle School, Arizonans leaving the polls seemed just as divided as those driving on North Central.
Amy Clements voted for McCain in his Senate campaigns but supported the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, in this election because she felt that McCain’s vice-presidential pick, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, was too inexperienced. Clements, a smiling, talkative woman in her 30s, had an unlikely ally in Dale, a gruff man who walked out of the middle school still shaking his head.
“I just wish McCain had picked a different VP,” said a remorseful Dale, who would not give his last name. “I wanted to vote for him, but I just couldn’t with Palin there.”
Of 18 people interviewed leaving the middle school after casting their ballots, he and Clements were two of seven who mentioned Palin’s presence on the ticket as a concern.
But those qualms proved secondary for the state as a whole. Others walking out of the school said the fact that McCain has spent more than 20 years representing Arizona earned him their votes.
Al Harrison, a tall, 60-year-old man who grew up in Arizona and never moved away, kicked dirt when asked if Obama might carry McCain’s home state.
“I hope not,” Harrison said. “I hope we wouldn’t do that to our friend Mr. McCain.”
Harrison was right, of course, though some have said that a fuller effort by Obama might have changed the outcome in Arizona. Obama’s campaign made only late strides to carry the state where McCain has often been seen as a favorite son. After a few polls showed a tightening race, Obama and the liberal organization MoveOn.org both began showing advertisements in the state.
None of the Arizonans interviewed for this article said those ads had made a difference in the way they voted. But Democrats have often written off Arizona, and so the fervor and intensity of liberal campaigning here — even if for naught — brought smiles to some.
“It doesn’t matter if Obama wins here,” said Irwin Johnson, a local contractor, early Tuesday moring. “What matters is that all of a sudden, people are actually screaming about politics here in Phoenix. That’s new, man.”