Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A state twice as rural as the national norm

This NYT story entitled, "Arkansas Proves its Worth as a Political Testing Ground," seeks to summarize the profile of the Arkansas electorate. It does so, of course, in the wake of Mike Huckabee's ascent, which invites us to see Clinton's rise from this obscure state as something other than a fluke.

Some of the descriptions of Arkansas and rurality are interesting, such as its characterization as an "unusual blend of Southern conservatism and Western populism." Later, the reporter writes of a "state-sized village of 2.7 million people, geographically compact, ethnically homogeneous and politically heterogenous. Arkansas is twice as rural as the national norm and poor, ranking 47th in per-capita income — and for much of its history was outside the American mainstream." A political science professor from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, says that rural white voters are the state's critical constituency, and that they are "not easily wooed by an unwavering conservative line."

The story quotes a number of Arkansas voters, both for against Huckabee. Here's the one that I think best reflects Arkansas values: “I think the guy’s basically grounded,” he said. “I bet Huckabee is closer to that triple-wide mobile home than he is to that White House,” he added, referring to Mr. Huckabee’s residence while the Governor’s Mansion was being renovated in 2000. “It’s the type of upbringing people are here: they have meager backgrounds.”

I have to admit, though, that the reason I couldn't resist commenting on this story is that I needed an excuse to direct readers to the photo that accompanied it. For me, the photo so captures the essence of rural Arkansas -- it could easily have been taken at the Ozark Cafe in my home town in NW Arkansas, Jasper. Note the absence of women (except a "waitress" no doubt hovering in the background), as the men sit around discussing the issues of the day.

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