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Byline: LLOYD DUNKELBERGER TALLAHASSEE BUREAU
Barack Obama will not find too many supporters at the bar at the American Veterans Post 7 in this small town in the middle of Florida's Panhandle.
"This country would go down the tubes if they put him in there," said Ron Noss, 64, a Vietnam veteran and the canteen manager for the local veterans' organization. "We need a veteran in there."
Although Noss used a racial epithet when first asked about the presidential campaign, he and other bar patrons insisted race was not the issue.
"We have nothing against a black man running for president," said a man sitting at the bar who declined to identify himself. "I think that's great if it's the right black man."
The exchange at the veterans' bar in Washington County represents the political challenges that Obama faces in the Florida Panhandle, a largely rural, conservative bastion that once played a dominant role in state politics.
Some of Florida's most influential politicians in the 20th century came from the region, including Senate President Dempsey Barron of Panama City, Gov. Reubin Askew of Pensacola and Gov. LeRoy Collins of Tallahassee.
As the rest of Florida grew, the region's influence has waned. Yet the Panhandle, which has only 8 percent of the state's population, still fiercely holds on to its political heritage, claiming three House speakers since 1993, including Rep. Ray …