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'Rednecks' come to Columbia for Obama rally

"Rednecks for Obama" creator campaigns in Columbia
Thursday, October 30, 2008 | 8:01 p.m. CDT; updated 11:22 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 31, 2008
Carol Birdsong, left, Tony Viessman, center, and Staci McNally of "Rednecks for Obama" stand in speaker's circle and hand out bumper stickers on Thursday at MU. The group from Rolla travels to rallies for Barack Obama around the U.S.

COLUMBIA — A trio of Obama supporters traveled to Columbia in a GMC pickup Thursday wearing T-shirts, jeans and baseball caps.

They have spent the last three months trying to gain support for their candidate.

But they're only trying to convert rednecks.

Tony Viessman, 74, of Rolla started "Rednecks for Obama" last summer and has been on the campaign trail ever since.

Viessman drove the nearly 100 miles to Columbia with Carol Birdsong and her daughter.After they arrived, around 4 p.m., they stood near Ellis Library holding a "Rednecks for Obama" banner, passing out business cards and bumper stickers and chatting up passersby.

Viessman described a redneck as "any man that's a working man.  Usually has a lot of guns. He's got a boat and a motor, sometimes he's got a 4-wheel drive truck. He hunts and fishes a lot and drinks a little beer."

He and fellow redneck Les Spencer, 60, started their political movement before Obama's July 30 stop in Rolla last summer and have targeted campaign events in Mississippi, Tennessee, Colorado and New York.

The next stop is an Obama rally in Springfield on Saturday.

Viessman plucked his idea out of the 1992 gubernatorial primary debates, when the mayor of St. Louis called Mel Carnahan a "redneck from Rolla."

"He won the governor for two terms, so I said ‘Why not rednecks for Obama?'" said Viessman, a retired state highway patrolman.

He said his daughter started the group's Web site two months ago, and it has counted over a million hits. 

He said he supports Obama because the Democratic candidate is a "bright, intelligent man."

"He's got a demeanor about him," said Viessman, who has always been a Democrat.

He said Republicans have tried to scare "rednecks" out of voting for Democrats.

"The NRA and the Republican Party is already telling these country boys that the Democrats are going to take their guns away from them," he said. "They're not getting my guns; I've got a dozen of them."

He's also convinced Obama would "take care of working-class people" better than other candidates.

Viessman said he has received mixed reactions in southern Missouri where he lives.

"The working people like it. Republicans don't, but I'm not interested in Republicans anyway," he said. "I'm interested in getting Democrats to vote for Obama and stay with him."


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