Thursday, November 5, 2009

A(nother) rural loser?

A front-page headline in yesterday's NYT proclaimed: "Breaking a Streak, Virginia Elects a Republican Governor." The sub-head, though, is what prompted this post: "McDonnell Defeats Rural Democrat as Polls Suggest Obama Voters Sat Out." (That was in the West coast print edition that I get; the online headline was simply, "In Virginia, McDonnell ends Democrats' Streak." The story, of course, is about Republican Robert McDonnell's victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race. The "rural Democrat," of course, is Creigh Deeds, of Bath County, population 5,048, in western Virginia.

What's interesting to me is the Times decision to play up Deeds' "rural-ness"--indeed, to see it as headline-worthy. Perhaps this attention to geography is a hang-over from the '08 election cycle's focus on rural-urban difference and what I have argued was the re-alignment of the culture wars along the rural-urban axis. The twist in the '09 race for Governor of Virginia, of course, is that now the Democrat is the rural-ite, the Republican the more cosmopolitan, more urban figure. A year ago we had Obama the cosmopolitan Democrat against Palin the down-home, family values Republican.

Here's an excerpt from the Times coverage that analyzes the Virginia race in terms of rural-urban difference:
In recent statewide elections, Democrats have won by securing about 60 percent of the vote in Northern Virginia, mainly the affluent suburbs of Washington. Democrats had hoped that by highlighting Mr. Deeds’s rural downstate roots, they would draw in new voters to build on their strength in the northern part of the state.

* * *
The Republicans also undercut some of Mr. Deeds’ support in the state’s rural, more conservative swaths by attacking him for supporting a tax increase to pay for road improvements.
Earlier in his story, Ian Urbina writes that Mr. Deeds "had a difficult time introducing himself to densely populated Northern Virginia." That region of the state, by the way, is McDonnell's home. He is from Mount Vernon, a Census Designated Place, population 32,423, in northern Virginia--essentially a DC exurb--near George Washington's home.

Indeed, elsewhere in the story, Urbina comes back to place as a proxy for culture--even, perhaps, suggesting class. He writes, "Voters in Northern Virginia also seemed to respond positively to Mr. McDonnell's sophistication and polish in a way that they did not to Mr. Deeds's self-deprecating demeanor and southern drawl."

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