How economy turned the tide in Pa.

Tough times followed Pennsylvanians into the voting booth. Most of them went with Obama.

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By Tami Luhby, senior writer

Elizabeth James is supporting Obama, who she thinks will help the economy.
Wilkes-Barre attorney John Bednarz says he isn't sure either candidate has the right plans. "It's a very difficult decision," he said.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. ( -- Patrick Brice said he makes a fine living as a systems administrator for an area phone company, but he still has had to cut back on his spending lately.

The Wilkes-Barre native says he's shelling out more for fruits, meats and health insurance. To combat the rising prices, he rarely eats out and has taken to buying meat in bulk and freezing what he doesn't immediately cook. He thinks the economy will get much worse before it gets better.

This is one reason why he supported Democrat Barack Obama for president. The candidate's proposal of cutting taxes on working Americans would allow them to shop more at their local grocers and retailers, which will help revitalize the economy, Brice said.

"All those people would go out and spend the money," said Brice, 40, who is single. "That would support the businesses within this country."

Most of his fellow Pennsylvanians agreed that Obama would make a better president than Republican John McCain. Obama was projected to win the state, capturing 58% of the vote to McCain's 41%, as of 10:30 p.m.

Both candidates lavished attention on the Keystone state in hopes of claiming its 21 electoral votes. The Wilkes-Barre campaign outposts of both men spent Tuesday calling thousands of residents to urge them to vote and to make sure they could get to the polls.

The presidential candidates' prescriptions for the weakening economy was one of the deciding factors with voters in crucial swing states such as Pennsylvania. Obama advocates tax relief for middle- and lower-income workers, while McCain says cutting taxes on businesses and the wealthy will create more jobs.

The economy was the top concern for 57% of Pennsylvania voters, according to exit polls. Of those voters, 60% voted for Obama.

Heavy turnout in the Keystone state

Area residents flocked to the polls Tuesday to support their candidate. Election workers and voters reported heavy turnout.

At one polling station, nearly two dozen senior citizens and college students waited on line in the afternoon to cast their ballots, divided in their support of Obama and McCain.

For many students from nearby King's College, it was their first time voting. Christine Moua, 19, said she couldn't wait. The aspiring corporate lawyer supports Obama because she thinks his tax policies would benefit her parents, who are struggling to pay for college for her and her two siblings.

"It was exciting being able to voice my opinion and to say I want Obama to be president," said Moua, a Lancaster native who is a sophomore at King's College.

At McCain's campaign outpost nearby, dozens of volunteers had their ears glued to the phones all day, urging people to vote. Supporters included local home-schooled children and New York City folks who came to back the GOP effort in this swing state.

McCain supporters, who had made 9,000 calls on Monday, remained optimistic despite recent polls showing Obama in the lead.

"Our people are really energized," said Sandra Kase, Luzerne County field director for the McCain campaign, adding she went to vote 10 minutes after balloting began to find 39 people ahead of her. "We just don't believe the polls."

Things had quieted down by early evening at one polling station in south Wilkes-Barre, with a handful of people coming in to cast their votes before the polls closed at 8 p.m.

It was a far cry from the morning crush that greeted poll workers. By 6:30 a.m., several dozen people were lined up outside Kistler elementary school.

"We've had people 10 deep, but not like it was this morning," said poll worker Joe Jacobs.

Some 70% of the district cast a ballot Tuesday, the highest turnout since the 1980 election, poll workers said. In the end, 55% of Luzerne County voters cast a ballot for Obama, while 44% supported McCain, according to CNN.

It's all about jobs

Area residents interviewed Monday in this blue-collar, northeastern Pennsylvania city said their top concerns were bringing back jobs that pay well and combating the rising costs of just about everything.

The region had the state's highest unemployment rate in September. The economic downturn threatens Wilkes-Barre's nascent revitalization. Last month, the mayor unveiled a budget that would raise taxes by 31%, or $70 a year on average, to close a $2.5 million shortfall. On top of that, the city is cutting spending and may need workers to take unpaid days off.

The region won't turn around until there's more opportunity for young people, said John Bednarz, 55, an attorney with a private practice in downtown Wilkes-Barre. There just aren't enough good-paying jobs, which is why his two sons left the area to pursue legal careers.

While the economy is among his top concerns, he doesn't think either Obama or McCain has the answer to putting America back on its feet.

"It's a very difficult decision this time," said Bednarz, 55, who lives in nearby Shavertown. "I don't know if either candidate has set forth specifics that make people feel better one way or the other."

Richard L. Connor agrees jobs are a high priority, but the local newspaper publisher doesn't hesitate to throw his support behind McCain.

Obama's election could be "a death knell for free enterprise and small business," Connor wrote in a column Sunday in the Times Leader. "It is in these two sectors that job creation begins. And at this time in history we need more jobs and less welfare."

Cutting back

Wilkes-Barre resident Elizabeth James has had to break the news to her 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren that she won't be putting Christmas presents under the tree for them this year. James, who ships vitamins for a company in Hazelton, is feeling the pinch because she lost the overtime work at her company.

James, 62, is supporting Obama because she thinks the Democratic nominee would do the best job for the country and the economy.

Even local residents with good jobs said they have to cut back as prices rise and fear sets in.

Lisa Hampton doesn't feel she is struggling. Still, the Kingston, Pa., resident and her husband didn't take their annual vacation and have cut back on eating out. The rising price of soda, steaks and natural gas is squeezing her family budget. The married mother of two grown girls rattled off the price of Coke, which now costs her $7 for a 24-pack, up from $5 only a few months ago, and of roast beef, which has jumped to $12 from $8.

While Hampton thinks McCain is stronger on national security issues, she believes Obama would do more to revive the economy and ease the burden of working Americans. Undecided until Election Day, she ended up voting for Obama.

"He might actually help middle-class people more with his tax cuts," said Hampton, 46, who cleans offices in downtown Wilkes-Barre. "He would help people like me." To top of page

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