A trip to parallel worlds of red and blue

Pasadena Republicans and the crew at Tolliver's Barber Shop offer a microcosm of the starkly different views dividing the nation.

California is, of course, a solid blue state. But it's got plenty of red patches, as we know, sometimes in close proximity to blue. On election day, I drove from one color to another, and the contrasts were so striking, I felt like an interplanetary explorer.

My first stop was at the Republican Party headquarters on East Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, where campaign workers were managing last-ditch efforts to get out the vote.

My next stop was at Tolliver's Barber Shop on West Florence Avenue in South Los Angeles, where proprietor Lawrence Tolliver had created an amphitheater for customers to watch the televised coverage of the presidential campaign.

One location had a framed Time magazine cover of anti-tax rebel Howard Jarvis shaking a fist, the other had a portrait of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. At one location, the TV was tuned to Fox News, at the other it was MSNBC.

Any guesses which was which?

In both places, the hope was that there'd be an evening celebration. The Pasadenans had shopped for party food at Costco. The gang at Tolliver's threw some ribs onto the oil-drum grill out back, and smoky funnels rose to the heavens.

"I'm a liberty Republican," Cesar Montoya, 21, told me at the GOP office.

By that, he meant he was a libertarian-leaning Republican, a mind-set he formed while studying political science and economics at Cal State Long Beach. Montoya is a smaller government, lower taxes kind of guy, and in this election, that spelled R-O-M-N-E-Y.

In the back of the Pasadena GOP's office, a life-size cardboard cutout of Mitt Romney stood next to one of Ronald Reagan, and I couldn't resist suggesting that Reagan wouldn't stand a chance in today's GOP. After all, he raised taxes and signed an abortion rights bill as governor of California, and as president, he amnestied illegal immigrants and nearly tripled the national debt.

A guy like that would be pilloried today on Fox News.

"Times have changed, and he was a strong leader," Lynn Gabriel, president of the Pasadena Republican Club, said of Reagan.

Gabriel said she's not looking for a president who will lower her taxes, but a president who will spend her taxes more efficiently. She insisted that's not Obama, who runs a big, overreaching government.

I asked what she thought of those who believe Obama is a Muslim. Gabriel didn't respond directly, but she did say she thinks the strength of foreign "Islamo-fascists" has grown since Obama took office, and she believes his Middle East polices show a certain sympathy to Muslim interests. She also said she was concerned about his exposure to black liberation theology based on his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Gabriel is also sick of the liberal media, especially the three major TV networks, which she believes didn't show the extent of Hurricane Sandy's damage because it would reflect negatively on Obama's response. I asked if she'd watched those three networks, and she said no, but her husband had.

Twenty miles away, the patrons of Tolliver's Barber Shop wondered how Obama's critics could ignore the president's accomplishments in the last four years.

Roger McGee, the man at the barbecue, said he got a lower mortgage rate and improved medical services at the VA in Long Beach, thanks to Obama's efforts.

Duane Clark said Obama's achievements included healthcare for those who had none, more school funding and help on student loans. As for Romney's comments about 47% of Americans feeling a sense of entitlement, Clark said you could count him in. He feels entitled to good parks and libraries, and he's worked to pay the taxes that support those institutions.

Clark and his wife, Debbie, had a treat Tuesday. They went with their son, Duane Jr., to the polls. Their son is 18; this was his first vote and he cast it for Obama.

"It felt awesome," said the young man.

To the extent that Obama didn't deliver more, said Lawrence Tolliver, there's plenty of blame to go around.

"It was their goal to stop Obama," he said of congressional Republicans and the constituents they answered to. "Forget about the country, just stop Obama."

Four years ago, I accompanied Tolliver as he went to the polls, swelling with pride at the chance to vote for an African American in a country that not so long ago had different rules for white and black. On Tuesday, Tolliver wore a U.S. flag fashioned as a shirt, saying it was in response to the chorus of Obama critics crying that it's time to take their country back.

"They don't like leadership being held by an African American. For some reason, that's un-American…and they've gotta take it back. That's why I wear this flag shirt and fly the American flag. I'm just as American as any of them."

Tolliver said he respected Romney and agrees with some of the ideas he hears from conservatives, and he'd like to think reasonable people can find common ground.

"Hopefully, when he wins this time, they'll say we have him for four more years, so now we can work with him because he's not going to run for reelection."

Well, I don't know how likely that will be, given the deep shades of red and blue in this country. But we'll get a chance to find out.

When the election was called in Obama's favor Tuesday night, I called the barbershop to speak to Mr. Tolliver.

"We did it," he said, half out of breath after coming back inside the shop from the middle of Florence Avenue with his friends and customers. "We were dancing in the street again."

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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