Debate Opinions

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 10, 2008

A handmade sign shows the price of a haircut and other services at Martin’s Barbershop, where co-owner Mike Martin (pictured) said most customers favor Sen. John McCain for president. The Panolian photos by Billy Davis

Two barbershops, two opinions of next president

By Billy Davis

Four Tuesdays before voters choose the 44th president, clippers and opinions were buzzing at two Batesville barbershops. But shop talk over who deserves the White House, and why, varied greatly.

“My customers are hoping McCain wins but they’re afraid he’s not, though,” said barber Mike Martin, who co-owns Martin’s Barbershop with his wife Barbara.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

At Corine’s Final Touch, a barbershop and beauty salon, support for Obama is running “99 percent – or better,” said barber Johnny Armstrong.

At Corine’s, the coming election is hard to miss. On one wall a get-out-the-vote poster shows Obama in a barber’s chair. Beneath the poster, the last day to register to vote, October 3, has been written in. In a corner, a stereo tuned to “Soul Classics” 103.5, a Memphis station, featured talk show host Michael Baisdain making the case for Obama.

Obama’s election as America’s first black president would be a “history-making event,” said Armstrong, 63, who is black and a lifelong Democrat.

But the barber disclosed a crucial detail during a 10-minute conversation: he had supported Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries.

“I’m on the Obama bandwagon now,” he said, grinning with clippers in hand.  

Seated in a barber’s chair next to Armstrong, beautician Tresa Jones voiced tepid support for Obama.

“I think I – I’m not quite sure… I’m for Obama,” she said. “I’m ready for a change, and I’m not for the Republicans.”

Asked about her lukewarm endorsement, she added, “I don’t think I want McCain. I know I don’t want Sarah Palin,” she said, referring to McCain’s running mate.

At Martin’s Barbershop, Mike Martin said customers are frequently talking about the coming election. Customers’ support for McCain is running 95 percent, he said.

Martin said he respects McCain’s experience as a U.S. senator and his military service, and says he sees both as an asset compared to the first-term Democrat.

Barbara Martin seconded that observation.

“My concern about Obama is not about color. It’s about his lack of experience,” she said. “I would have voted for Colin Powell due to his experience.”

Mike Martin said his customers have also voiced concerns about Obama’s Muslim heritage due to his unusual name.

“People are saying it feels too close to other names,” Martin said, referring to the senator’s middle name, “Hussein.”

The Muslim rumor has plagued Obama during the campaign. The senator’s Kenyan-born father was a non-practicing Muslim and Obama was registered as a Muslim when attending grade school in Indonesia. But he has described himself as a “practicing Christian,” and attended church in Chicago.

“I don’t think (Obama) has anything to do with being a Muslim even though his name might sound like that,” said Armstrong, when told of the concerns at Martin’s Barbershop.

Regarding McCain’s experience, Armstrong saw that asset differently.

“He’s a little old to be running,” Armstrong said of the 72-year-old senator. “And Sarah Palin doesn’t have any experience other than being governor of Alaska.”

Asked about the most important issues, both Armstrong and Jones said they are concerned about the economy.

“It’s affected business,” Jones said of Corine’s customers.

Armstrong also listed healthcare as an important issue. “It’s one of the main – for me it’s the main issue,” he said.

Mike Martin also said customers are concerned about the economy.

“It might get worse before it gets better,” he said. “But Obama is saying he can solve every problem in the whole country. I don’t see how you can do that and not raise taxes.”

Armstrong agreed that Obama’s election would mark a milestone for the United States, but he would view the loss on November 4 as the country’s will.

“I look to a higher power. He’s in control,” Armstrong said.