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Gary Younge
Black America may get a president before black Americans get to vote
As the sun rose over Soweto on South Africa's first democratic election in 1994, the Mwale family were too busy with practical matters to ponder the historical resonance of the day.

People queue for a Joe Biden rally in Roanoke, Virginia. Photograph: Sean Smith
Thank you and goodbye
So it's over. What started with bluegrass ended with Falstaff.
Silence please for the real election drama
The introductory call of Roanoke's No Shame Theatre is that it's a place where "anything can happen." To which the crowd responds: "And it usually does."
Younge America: Artistic battlegrounds
Who wants to be a Carilionaire?
David Crimmins sits on a chair outside his house, holding his youngest son and smoking a cigarette. With no phone and no car, he would be the first to admit he doesn't own much.
Younge America: Falling through the cracks
Barack Obama arrives in Roanoke
No more need to whisper as Democrats are finally out and proud
Sam, the hotel waiter, wasn't at breakfast yesterday morning. For the three weeks I have been in Roanoke we have talked politics together over the buffet most days.
Roanoke voices: Behind enemy lines

John McCain speaks during a rally in Downingtown, Pennsylvania on Thursday. Jim Watson/AFP
Why John McCain is losing
If you were looking for an explanation as to why John McCain's campaign is floundering so badly you could do worse than come to Roanoke.
Can Obama's outsiders do the job?
The trouble with aspiring to a post-racial presidential candidacy is that the racial realities of America still exist.
Roanoke voices: Racial landscapes
Obama’s Virginia Territory
At the end of the day even the most sophisticated grassroots electoral campaign relies on people. People like Meghan Schertz, a 29-year-old Obama volunteer, who’s given up her Sunday afternoon to canvass the Washington Heights area here.

Roanoke Times website. Photograph: Public domain
The world comes to Roanoke
I made it. I'm on the front page of the Roanoke Times. Not the guy in the orange jumpsuit accused of rape and murder. The headline that reads "World takes Pulse of Roanoke Voters". It's a good piece (they did another piece on me just over a week ago which was a bit snotty for which I can't find a link). And though the basic thrust of the article is true, it is also deeply troubling to me.
Virginia, the new dominion
An Obama staffer has confirmed that the Democratic presidential nominee will be heading this way on Friday, according to the Associated Press. Those are all the details so far. But the very possibility of it tells you two things about the nature of the race at this point.
Roanoke voices: 'We need God back'
Younge America: Bill Clinton comes to town
It's the taking part that counts
Many criticisms are made about American political culture, and many of them are valid. But one thing rarely acknowledged is the depth and intensity of popular civic engagement.
Younge America: Soapbox nation
The politics of smear won't work in the middle of a stockmarket crash
As the nation's attention keeps skipping from the financial meltdown to the presidential election and back again, nothing serves as a more apt metaphor for John McCain's campaign right now than the state of the markets and the popular response to it.

Sue Shelton at the Presbyterian community centre. Photograph: Sean Smith
The queues for free bread are getting longer
There are many ways to pick up your free bread at the Presbyterian community centre in south-east Roanoke. A few just come in, pick up a couple of loaves and go. Others take their time, chat with the staff and catch up with other regulars. And some like to linger over the selection, prodding each loaf and asking fellow visitors their opinions on the relative benefits of the fare on offer as though they were in a local patisserie.
Roanoke voices: 'Race relations ... are abominable'

Bill Clinton. Photograph: AP
The curse of Roanoke won't hold Bill Clinton back
Bill Clinton's coming to town on Sunday. Or at least that's the plan. As I mentioned after Joe Biden's cancellation last weekend, Roanoke seems to be cursed when it comes to high-profile political visitors. Biden's mother-in-law passed away last Sunday. During the primaries both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were prevented from coming here by a freak storm.

Gary Younge goes shooting with Carey Garst in Boones Mill, Virginia. Photograph: Sean Smith
Swing state gun lover explains his opposition to Barack Obama
I'm not very good with guns. A 9mm Glock sits heavy in my hand and on my conscience. I'm just a short drive away from Virginia Tech where Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded many others in 2007. With each shot the gunfire echoes all around Cahas mountain and squawking birds pepper the clear blue sky. So when I pull the trigger, I flinch. That, says Carey Garst, my host, is why I keep missing the target.
Younge America: 'Obama was competent'
US election: 'There are people other than banjo pickin' raccoon hunters'
I make no apology for the raccoon. It came to us, we didn't go it.

Democratic volunteers Tony and Karen Russell canvass for the Obama presidential campaign in Roanoke county, Virginia. Photograph: Sean Smith
US election: Dodging bullets with Obama canvassers
"Hell no!" said the man with the long beard from his half opened doorway.
Barack Obama's army
Ice-cream goes on the credit card as valley feels the chill approaching
Driving into Roanoke you see the 21-storey Wachovia building imposing itself on the skyline like an gigantic illusion of economic stability. It is the town's only skyscraper so the bank's name can be seen for miles in any direction. But Wachovia, the area's fourth largest employer, is effectively no more. On the day I arrived it was the subject of an emergency rescue, crippled by bad debts.
Biden cancels visit to Roanoke
The curse of Roanoke has once again struck. During the primaries visits by both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were cancelled after a freak storm shut the town down. On Saturday came news that vice presidential candidate Joe Biden will not in fact come to Roanoke on Monday. He has to cancel because his mother-in-law is in a critical condition.

Joe Biden speaks during the vice presidential debate in St Louis, Missouri on Thursday. Photograph: Jeff Roberson/AP
Joe Biden heading to Roanoke
Joe Biden is coming to town. Locally that is pretty big news. No one that I've spoken to really expected a Democrat to bother with these parts given the size of the town and the immensity of the Republican support dominates the media market around it. Nationally it marks a paradigm shift. It suggests a confidence among Democrats that is pushing them deep into enemy territory.

Republicans watch the vice-presidential teleivision debate in a restaurant in Roanoke, Virginia. Photograph: Sean Smith
Northern migration
Overheard at the Roanoke Hotel breakfast buffet: "Well you're a pretty lady too. But would I want you as my vice-president? Hell no."

Republicans watch the vice-presidential teleivision debate in a restaurant in Roanoke, Virginia. Photograph: Sean Smith
All hail Queen Sarah
Watching the vice-presidential debate last night with Roanoke Republicans reminded me of the 1980s Specials song What I like Most About You is Your Girlfriend.
The two Roanokes
There are two Roanokes: Roanoke City and Roanoke County. The city has a small market area which is just the right side of twee. Art galleries and a coffee shop, some bars, restaurants, museums a diner, stores selling knick knacks and stalls selling local produce. Only the mouse infestation in the city market building casts an unfortunate blight on an otherwise dainty, village feel. Beyond this small space the city (which is actually a county unto itself) spreads out in all directions, divided by route 581 from north to south, the railroad tracks from east to west and by race and class throughout.
Calling all Republicans
Calling all Roanoke Republicans.

Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in La Crosse, Wisconsin on Wednesday. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP
Former DNC chairman says attack ads against Obama will get nastier
The presidential election campaign is poised for an ugly turn as Republicans resort to increasingly desperate attacks in a bid to chip away at Barack Obama's surge in the polls, according to a leading Democratic activist.
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