Skirting Appalachia

As Hillary Clinton’s rout in West Virginia underscores, Appalachia is not Obama country. Of 410 counties in the region, which stretches from New York to Mississippi, Barack Obama has won only 48 (12 percent) so far. Of the counties he has lost, nearly 80 percent have been by a margin of more than 2 to 1. The region is whiter, poorer, older, more rural and less educated than the rest of the country, and seems to be voting like a bloc.

In fact, it hasn’t been Democratic country for the last two presidential elections. Only 48 of the counties voted for John Kerry in 2004, down from 66 counties (or 16 percent) that went for Al Gore in 2000. The only states with counties in the region that have consistently voted Democratic in the last four such elections have been New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — While the word “change” might be the leading motif in the Obama campaign, the spirit of inclusion comes a close second.

The idea of writing off Appalachia might make strategic sense as Charles Blow convincingly argues, but even so, it would run against the spirit of the campaign. Moreover, a region that is used to being written off really deserves better.

Having lived on the Blue Ridge for the last six years, I’ve learned a bit about how the mountaineers think.

Two days after Obama’s big loss in West Virginia and a day after his big win with the Edwards endorsement, I got the chance to take the political pulse locally when I went to renew my driver’s license.

One of the privileges of rural life is the pleasure of being able to go to a DMV office, find no line, and get helped by a government official who’s more interested in talking politics than getting stuck in a bureaucratic rut. This mountaineer was exactly the kind of voter that Obama should have his eye on: a loyal Edwards supporter who wants a president who looks out for the working folk and will help restore the respect that America has lost around the world. She wasn’t sure if Obama would be on the side of the workers. She’d never heard that he was a community organizer. She didn’t know he’d passed up the opportunity for a lucrative career on Wall Street. She simply didn’t know enough about the candidate.

Listen to the pundits and you’d conclude that the single most important thing to know about Appalachia is that it’s mostly white, but I’d say the key issue here is respect. Skirting Appalachia is no better than saying, you people don’t matter.

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2 thoughts on “CAMPAIGN 08 & EDITOR’S COMMENT: On Appalachia

  1. Nell

    Thanks for this. Joint appearances with Edwards and with Jim Webb, with an emphasis on the economic justice pieces of the campaign, will go a long way toward keeping West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia competitive.

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