The Presidential Race Is Perfectly Divided, In One House
Rick and Cindy Oleshak won't be voting the same way in the presidential election, and they want the world to know it.
The couple display competing yard signs in front of their house in Webster Groves, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. The Romney-Ryan sign is clearly marked "his," while Obama-Biden is "hers."
"We don't watch the debates together," says Cindy Underwood-Oleshak, a marketing consultant. "It took us probably 45 minutes to an hour longer to watch the debates four years ago, because we kept stopping and pausing and arguing."
Both are habitual partisans — for separate parties — but their disagreements about this year's race sound almost like talking points from the Obama and Romney campaigns.
Cindy, 41, says she knows plenty of people who need government assistance, particularly when it comes to health care. "There's something we can do as a country to help people," she says. "I feel like Republicans are like, 'Hey, man, I'm out for myself. We don't want to help you.' "
Rick, 43, who works for Anheuser-Busch, says there are times when the government does have to a role to play in helping to ensure health and safety, particularly in the wake of a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy.
For the most part, though, he worries about deficit spending and advocates a more "laissez-faire" approach. "I don't know if I necessarily want the government answering everything that I have as a need as a citizen," he says.
They hold a friendly running argument about whose yard sign elicits more honks of support from passing cars. But they don't disagree about everything. It matters to both of them that President Obama and Mitt Romney are family men without a whiff of scandal to their names.
Their respective politics reflect differences in their personalities. Rick is "conservative in nature," he says, while he describes Cindy as "risk-welcome." When they first met, a friend said they were "yin and yang."
If the Oleshaks are split, they are reflective of their area. Missouri, which was throughout the 20th century a near-perfect bellwether in presidential politics, has become more Republican and is expected to support Romney next Tuesday.
Webster Groves, which is about two miles outside the St. Louis city limits, is itself a partisan dividing line. The densely populated areas between Webster Groves and the Mississippi River to the east are all Democratic; nearly everything from Webster Groves west to Kansas City — some 240 miles away — is Republican.
Webster Groves, where I moved two years ago, was for decades represented in state government by Republicans. But they were a certain strain of Republicans that has mostly passed from the scene — fiscally conservative, but socially liberal.
Four years ago, a Democrat named Jeanne Kirkton won the Webster Groves state House seat, and she survived the strong GOP tide in 2010.
Rick Oleshak considers himself a conservative on social issues, but he says he's not willing to vote for Todd Akin, the GOP Senate candidate in Missouri. Akin's notorious remark about "legitimate rape" not causing pregnancy was disqualifying, he says.
"Don't break my heart," Cindy says, when the subject comes up.
But Rick doesn't intend to vote for Claire McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent, either. He doesn't always vote for Republicans — he supported independent Ross Perot during his presidential runs in the 1990s — but he doesn't see contemporary Democrats he can back.
Cindy rolls her eyes when she hears Rick praise Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate. She doesn't like Ryan's politics and has been personally inconvenienced by his appearance on the ticket.
"Unfortunately, I was promoting a show this past week that was in Wisconsin," she says. "Oh, my lord, it was brutal when they announced Ryan was the running mate, because advertising spot rates went through the roof in Wisconsin."
Both Rick and Cindy say that their voting habits were instilled by their parents. It's not clear what partisan inclinations they're passing on themselves.
When they were installing their respective yard signs about a week ago, their 4-year-old son, Cameron, told his dad that he wanted Romney to win. A few minutes later, though, Cameron whispered to Cindy that he liked Obama.
So it seems Cindy and Rick may not be raising a Republican or a Democrat; they may be raising a politician.