Spreading The Word On Obama In Ohio, Haircut By Haircut

(CBS)

From CBS Radio Correspondent Barry Bagnato:

(AKRON, OHIO) A man pulls up to Chez Marchele, gets out with his wife, and sees an Obama sign in the window. "I don't know if I'm gonna vote this year," he tells the owner. He's tired of politics. Marchele Sneed puts down her clippers and slips into her second job, selling her customers on Barack Obama, "just giving them any information they need and how he stands on the issues."

Her neighborhood business here is part of a network of barbershops and beauty salons recruited to be Obama campaign "outposts." Located mainly in African-American neighborhoods, they deal directly with voters the Illinois Senator needs to win this important election state. "It's kind of the one-on-one attention you can give somebody just sitting in your chair," Sneed says. Her shop and the others helped register voters before the deadline passed. "My job now is to get them the information they need to make that final decision and also to let them know they can vote early."

One third of Ohio's African Americans live in Cuyahoga County, including Cleveland. Nearly half reside in this northeastern part of the state. John Kerry got 86 per cent of the black vote in Ohio in 2004. The Obama campaign's goal is at least 90 per cent to offset John McCain's conservative strength in the southwest and the possible loss of white Democrats in the hardscrabble southeastern corner bordering West Virginia and Pennsylvania. I grew up in western Pennsylvania, go back there often, and didn't blink when Congressman John Murtha blurted out that the area is racist. Not everyone is, of course, probably not even a majority of the people -- but enough to effect voting totals. Talking about southeastern Ohio, Jon Delano, who covers politics for KDKA-TV, put it this way: "When you've grown up in an environment where race has been such a part of your life, you really have to work at it to separate it from how you cast your ballot."

It's insulting to many Republicans here that some in the media portray the racial issue as pure prejudice. If you're white and vote against John McCain, you must be biased. "It's values, guns, God, abortion, things like that, where they stand with McCain," Ben Keeler told me. He's a conservative blogger, out of Akron. "Some people are voting on race, yes...both ways," he points out, and adds, "That I think is being overlooked."

In a corner of a litter-filled strip mall at 105th and St. Clair on Cleveland's East Side, Obama volunteers in black T-shirts hustle in-and-out of a messy office. It's the only place in this shopping center where there are cars parked. This is a neighborhood of boarded up buildings, constant police patrols, empty lots with lost souls. At a phone bank, the volunteers pour through bar-coded voter lists. Most of the calls go unanswered. When there is an occasional encounter with a voter, the topic that comes up is the economy, at least during the afternoon I was there. The Obama camp is banking on the hope this issue will transcend race and cultural differences, and give the Democrat a victory that eluded John Kerry, even with the vast majority of Ohio's black vote.