USA Today: Election hinges on identity, life experience in Jena, La.

USA Today (9/19/08)

Election hinges on identity, life experience in Jena, La.

Main Street buzz has turned from racial politics to presidential politics in the year since the “Jena Six” legal battles and civil rights protests.

Residents gathered outside the La Salle Parish courthouse in Jena, La., on Sept. 11 to reflect on community values and how the presidential election might play here, a parish of about 14,000 residents, heavily invested in oil, timber and conservative values.

Cleveland Riser Jr., a retired educator who invested 29 years in the local school system, said he sees identity as a pressure point this year. The parish is 85.6% white and 12% black.

“Can they overcome the fact that when they see him they are going to see a darker face?” asked Riser, a black man with Native American and white heritage.

Riser, who supports Obama, said he believes race will factor into voters’ decisions but that it was not the most important issue to him.

Age made more of a difference. Riser, a veteran, admires McCain’s military service but thinks a 72-year-old candidate lacks the energy for the job. Instead, he was inspired by the vivacity and enthusiasm of Obama, 47.

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