What’s eating Appalachia?
'Democrats in the region seem to hate their president. Keith Judd, a convict serving a 17-year sentence for extortion in a Texan jail' 'won 58% of the vote in Hardy County to Barack Obama’s 42%. Mr Judd’s victory was not a freak result: Democrats in a further nine counties in West Virginia judged a resident of the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana a better standard-bearer for their party than the current occupant of the White House.'
'Neil Gillies, chairman of the Democratic Party in Hardy County, agrees that bureaucratic interference and cultural affronts have sapped the president’s popularity. But he sees Mr Obama chiefly as the victim of demographic trends of longer standing. West Virginia (like most of the rest of Appalachia) is older, whiter, less educated, more religious and more rural than most of America—attributes that correlate with voting Republican. As a result, the Democrats’ grip on the state has gradually been slackening. West Virginia has voted Republican at the presidential level since 2000. Its congressional delegation is tending that way, too. And Democrats have survived in state government only by disavowing the national party, as Messrs Manchin and Tomblin have.'
'Mike Teets, the only Republican on the Hardy County Commission, denies that race has anything to do with local antipathy towards Mr Obama. But he is concerned that the president may be a Muslim, secretly in cahoots with Osama bin Laden, whose killing he could have faked. He also wonders whether the president might be gay. Wild accusations like these, Mr Obama’s supporters maintain, stem from sublimated racism.'
'Jim Webb, a senator from neighbouring Virginia, has noted that much of the population of Appalachia is of Scots-Irish descent. Such voters, he says, often feel snubbed by Democrats who set little store by their “guns and religion”, as Mr Obama once memorably put it. (This may help to explain the president’s poor showing in primaries in Arkansas and Oklahoma, which also have big Scots-Irish populations.) Mr Obama’s recent embrace of gay marriage, says Mr Wade, was reason enough in itself for many in West Virginia to sour on him.'
'Voters with similar sensibilities inhabit the fringes of many states he hopes to carry, including North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Moreover, West Virginia is seen as a proving ground for candidates with white working-class voters. They were never very keen on Mr Obama in the first place, preferring John McCain by 13 points in 2008. Now, as the litany of complaints from West Virginia shows, they have many more reasons to reject the president. Or to look at it another way, if Mr Judd can bring almost half of these Democrats along, how many can Mitt Romney muster?'