In that sliver of land between Edinburg and the Neshoba County line in East Mississippi sits an old country store with "Vote John McCain President" stencilled in black lettering inside a crudely painted American flag that adorns the west side of the simple, block structure.

There's a portable flashing sign out front off Mississippi 16 with "Vote McCain President" as well.

A grassy, gravel drive leads to two wooden Uncle Sam figures on the columns by the door.

Jack McMillan, the owner and proprietor, envisions the store as the McCain volunteer headquarters for Leake County. He plans a youth involvement program, volunteer phone banks, a get-out-the-vote rally, and campaign signs, hats and CDs of McCain speeches.

He has never done this before.

Now retired, McMillan worked for the state for many years and speaks of his service with Govs. Cliff Finch and William Winter (he compliments both) while explaining he has never been personally involved in "politics."

He is no Republican Party activist and his words reflect no passion for Republicans or partisanship. He speaks about America - about duty, honor, country - a reflection of McCain's image.

I never heard an ill word toward Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton (or any mention of them for that matter) and for McMillan, it seems, this election isn't about them. For him, John McCain is the man that can best lead this country. McCain is the reason McMillan is out of retirement and into politics for the first time in his life.

Older, rural, blue-collar voters in the South, Appalachia, and the Midwest, relate to McCain's image as a respected and seasoned servant of his country. They hear McCain speak of service to America with humility - almost as if he were courting the person America - cognizant of his own failures but honest to his promise that just as he has in the past, he will give every measure of service and sacrifice to her.

These voters are not looking for Obama's change for the future. They have had enough of the future and want to trade in their risky aggressive high-yield stocks for the security and comfort of a trusty treasury CD. They may not be on blogs or YouTube, and they may be unable to leave their responsibilities to attend rock-star rallies; but like the fabled tortoise, they are steady, persistent, and unshakeable: to borrow from Richard Nixon, a silent majority. Besides the South, they put states like West Virginia and Indiana into McCain's column. Obama lost both states to Clinton in their primaries.

Eighty miles southwest of McMillan is my home in the Belhaven neighborhood of Jackson. I didn't poll everyone at my street's recent block party, but if I was not the lone Republican, I was at least in a silent minority. Talk turned to the presidential race and the excitement about Barack Obama. No one cared that I plan to vote for John McCain. They've seen my yard signs. I'm a Republican. Republicans vote for McCain. But what turned up the temperature on the late May day in Mississippi was the discovery that several Clinton supporters were also voting for McCain.

I was intrigued to hear the discussion first-hand. A couple of the neighbors raised questions of competence and experience: they believe Clinton possesses those qualities, Obama does not. Regardless of ideology, they want an adult in the White House. These Democrats feel George W. Bush is an example of immature leadership and Barack Obama would be the Democratic version of him.

One neighbor is from Illinois. She notes just four years ago Obama was a state senator from Chicago dominated by ward-bosses, divisive men like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and indicted influence peddlers like Tony Rezko. She describes Obama as an old-style street politician cloaked in the illusion of transformative rhetoric. She would never vote for Obama, my Democrat neighbor said.

A Gallup Poll in March reported that 28 percent of Clinton supporters would vote for McCain rather than Obama: this includes a large number of Democrat leaning independents, conservative Democrats, moderate Democrats and Hispanic Democrats. Those numbers put states like Pennsylvania and Ohio closer to McCain (Clinton beat Obama in both primaries) and shores up McCain leaning but contested states like Florida and Virginia.

Mississippi voters have chosen the Democrat nominee once since 1960: the born-again Baptist governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter against the unelected Nixon-pardoning Gerald Ford in 1976. Ford barely lost.

Democrats don't look to improve their record this year.

A recent Rasmussen poll puts Obama six points behind McCain, 50 to 44 percent; and a Research 2000 poll puts the race at 54 percent McCain to 39 percent Obama.

No one is surprised that Mississippi is John McCain country, but if these examples indicate a broader national trend, then Barack Obama faces a cultural and electoral challenge in November.



Brian Perry of Jackson, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms