Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More on the rural vote in the wake of the Kentucky and Oregon primaries

So, Clinton has, of course, won Kentucky, and Obama has, of course, won Oregon. Both are states with significant rural populations. Hillary's been associated with rural voters -- particularly in recent days, particularly in the wake of her trouncing Obama in West Virginia last week. But if rural voters love Hillary, why didn't she make a better showing in Oregon where, an NPR commentator told us this evening, Hillary focused on the rural eastern part of the state?

Here' s my theory: Hillary appeals to what I call traditional rural communities, those populated with long-time rural residents. The multi-generational rural residents are the ones who appreciate her -- the type of folks you find in eastern Kentucky. But the demographic in rural Oregon is different. Many of the rural residents there haven't lived in Oregon -- let alone rural Oregon, for generations. They are more the newcomers, the "back to nature" or "escape from it all" type of transplant somewhat associated with what I have called rural gentrification. (The same may be true of Idaho, for example, which Obama carried. But unlike in Oregon, perhaps there aren't that many Democrats anywhere in Idaho, and the ones there are definitely the Obama types, be they rural or urban). So, does Obama attract "rural hippies" and Hillary long-time, intergenerational rural residents? Maybe, although Hillary's showing in Oregon's more rural counties was certainly respectable. As in many other states with significant rural populations, urban voters may still easily outnumber their rural counterparts.

In any event, if my idea about their two being two broad classes of rural voters is accurate, it still leaves for me the question of why Hillary attracts the traditional, intergenerational type of rural voters. Don't get me wrong. I'm a a big fan of Hillary. (I grew up in Arkansas, and she was a significant role model for me, albeit a distant one. I, after all, was the daughter of a truck driver and a teacher's aide in a v. small town; she was a big city lawyer, the wife of the governor who undertook to reform the state's education system. By the time I was in college, too late to benefit from it, my rural school was finally required to offer a foreign language, and it got ag/vo-tech classes, too. But I digress . . . ) Why do traditional, long-time rural voters, often described as working-class and poorly educated by the political pundits, support Hillary? When I was growing up in Arkansas, the rural folk I lived amongst generally loved Bill, even though they often reviled Hillary. What has changed? Are these rural voters now gender-progressive and gender-enlightened? Is their loyalty to Hillary a knock-on consequence of their affection for Bill Clinton? Or are they simply racists reacting against Obama? Recent media accounts suggest the latter.

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