Sunday, December 29, 2013

West Virginia tilts right

Trip Gabriel reported a few days ago in the New York Times under the headline, "West Virginia Democrats Face and Uneasy Time."  The story is about the election to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jay Rockefeller who, interestingly, first came to the state "in 1964 to work with the rural poor as a Vista volunteer, just a few years after John F. Kennedy cemented his presidential nomination by winning the West Virginia primary."

Gabriel documents a right-ward shift in West Virginia politics, a shift that has ramifications as Democrat Natalie Tennant, the W.V. Secretary of State, and seven-term Republican congresswoman, Shelley Moore Capito, vie for Rockefeller's seat.  The story includes several references to the state's rurality.
Neighboring Virginia has leaned leftward in recent years because of the growth and diversity of its Washington suburbs. But the Appalachian region of West Virginia and parts of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, which had stayed faithfully Democratic even as Southern whites abandoned the party, have more recently been defecting over issues that are as much cultural as economic. 
Many of the poorest counties in West Virginia, which are among the most dependent in the nation on food stamps, unemployment insurance and other federal benefits, voted most heavily for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Gabriel quotes Lane Bailey, a former chief of staff to Senator Rockefeller and the son of a coal miner.
The state that first elected Jay Rockefeller in 1976 as governor is not the same state today.  [Rural West Virginians] are more and more angry, more and more turning inward, because they have become untrusting of a government that they feel has forgotten them.
Gabriel paraphrases Bailey as saying that "[r]ural West Virginians feel culturally adrift from Washington."  

This reminds me of a New York Times story from last week in which Jonathan Martin explored the question whether Arkansas is "Still Friendly to Bill" (Clinton, that is) who has been spending time in the state campaigning for Democratic candidates for governor, U.S. Senator, Congressional seats, and other offices.  Some of the candidates go way back with the former President--to their own work on Clinton's early campaigns for governor.  Martin notes that the state's right-ward tilt in recent years may have seriously tempered Clinton's influence there.  One of the striking things about that story was its suggestion that all politics remains local, with this story from James Lee Witt of Clinton's response when Witt told the former President that Witt was considering a run for a house seat:    
“He got very excited,” said Mr. Witt, who was the head of Arkansas’s emergency services for Mr. Clinton before joining him in Washington. “He was telling stories about when he ran for governor here and what counties he won by down there and what counties he lost and by what percentages.” Mr. Clinton’s conclusion: “He said, ‘You know what, you can win that race.’ ”

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