Road to November: Politics on the Menu

Reymont Cantil, Ben Hunter, and Paul Kulik work at La Buvette in Omaha. (Photo: Monica Almeida/The New York Times)

OMAHA – Welcome to the great swing state of La Buvette, a French bistro in the Old Market area of Omaha.

Nebraska is a solidly red state, but Omaha itself is a bit more complex. Because the state distributes some of its electoral votes by Congressional districts, the Obama campaign has fixed its sites on the second district here, where it believes it can pick off one of those votes via this city.

La Buvette
is its own mini-second district, with a Republican chef, a liberal Democrat waiter and another cook who is a registered Democrat who describes himself as a moderate. The day after a visit from Gov. Sarah Palin – memorialized in Monday's edition of the Omaha World Herald with its banner headline, "Palin Wows The G.O.P. Faithful," — the voting block of three at La Buvette chewed over politics as they prepared for lunch.

"I'm an Omaha native and a conservative," said Paul Kulik, the chef. "I think liberalism is intellectually irresponsible. I have very clear memories of what it was like in the '80s and all the communist atrocities denial on the left." Mr. Kulik, 34, loves Sarah Palin. He can't wait to vote for her.

He finds no political soul mate in Reymont Cantil, the waiter who has his own childhood memories. "I was raised with my father screaming at the Iran-Contra affair every night on T.V.," Mr. Cantil said. "I was raised to believe people on the conservative right were self righteous. The values I attained is that you leave religion and sexuality at your house."

Mr. Middle is Ben Hunter. "I'm fiscally conservative but socially liberal," said Mr. Hunter, who is leaning Obama. "I'm just prioritizing right now. It's about the war. I'm not a pacifist by any means but I don't like the bible beating or bringing up God with war." Mr. Cantil feels lonely sometimes. "You have to have a good sense of humor to live in Omaha," the Democrat said.

Paul Kulik is a Republican and chef, Reymont Cantil is a Democrat and a server. (Photo: Monica Almeida/The New York Times)

The morning talk turned to Ms. Palin. "She's a joke around here," insisted Mr. Hunter. "What? She's a joke at La Buvette!" countered Mr. Kulik. "It is so interesting to me that she has been reduced to a cliché. No one turns the same criticism toward the liberals."

Mr. Hunter conceded that he finds her attractive. "She has the capacity to speak directly to the public," Mr. Kulik said.

Mr. Cantil chimed in with another thought. "I'm excited to see if Obama gets elected how that would affect people in the inner city. Showing them that it is not your color but hard work that gets you places."

That was about as heated as its get, though. The men said they don't fight about politics. "We fight about other things," said Mr. Hunter. Like what? The three silently pondered the question, then agreed with Mr. Kulik. "Mostly bread."

Journalists for The New York Times are traversing the country from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the George Washington Bridge in New York, chatting with voters about the presidential campaign. Follow along here.

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