Appalachian Election?

Steve Tuttle takes to the pages of Newsweek to proclaim the ascendency of Appalachia as the decider of the next president.

“Hick.” “Hillbilly.” “Redneck.” “Inbred.” “Cracker.” “Ridge Runner.” I heard and self-effacingly used them all when I left the mountains of Appalachia to attend college in the great metropolis of Williamsburg, Va., in the ’80s. I was mercilessly ribbed as a rube when I brought along my sky-blue JCPenney suit—with reversible vest—and my stack of Willie and Waylon albums, and entered a world that was as foreign to me as I must have seemed to my fancy William & Mary roommates from the private schools. Imagine my surprise at their surprise when, thinking nothing of it, I casually mentioned that I missed my mom’s home-cooked squirrel.

Well, look who’s laughing now. In this strangest of political seasons, Appalachia, the last forgotten place in America, suddenly matters. Never mind Florida and Michigan. In a close election come November, the difference between President McCain and President Obama could come down to me and my people: a bunch of ornery, racist, coal-minin’, banjo-pickin’, Scots-Irish hillbillies clinging to our guns and religion on the side of some Godforsaken, moonshine-soaked ridge in West Virginia. The Democrats comically pandered to all these stereotypes during this spring’s primaries, when the 23 million people of Appalachia—that 1,000-mile mountainous stretch from southern New York to the middle of Alabama—briefly hijacked the presidential race. Scrounging for every last vote, the candidates went out of their way to look country. Hillary got all twangy. Barack tasted beer.

West Virginian Don Surber figures this is old news, noting that, “If Al Gore, boy genius, had taken Arkansas or Tennessee or West Virginia, Florida would not have mattered.”  Tennessean Glenn Reynolds adds, “Apparently, the vote for me, you ignorant rednecks approach isn’t working that well.”

Of course, as Clark Stooksbury points out, “I’m not sure how dumb hillbillies decided the 2000 race when every single state mattered—had George Bush lost one more state anywhere, he would not have been president. If you compare the 1996 and 2000 electoral maps, you see that Gore lost a lot of states, with more than 100 electoral votes, that Clinton carried in 1996.”

True that. A lot of states are likely to be in play this go-round.  All of them matter.  Indeed, for all we know, it could come down to Georgia and how many votes Bob Barr siphons off from John McCain.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Race and Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Moonage says:

    Hillbilly Nation or not, Al Gore losing one hillbilly state, the one he lived in, was sort of the indication of what was to come. People sort of take it for granted that the candidate would at least carry that much. However, he just couldn’t paint himself as a bitter, gun-toting good ole boy. I think the observation made by Tuttle is correct, but mislabeled. Most of the Appalachian states are primarily, if not heavily Democrat in registration, but will vote Republican. If the Democrat candidate shows an early weakness in the Eastern time zone, ie most all of Appalachia, it is easily observed by those in the later time zones. So, it has been important in years past to lock up some of those swing states to send the message to everyone else that you’re gonna win. So, the hillbilly states are very important on election day. But, it has nothing to do with the culture of the region.

  2. Bithead says:

    well, there’s all that, and there’s also the number of Clinton supporters who won’t vote for Obama if a finger came out of the sky pointing to him saying “This is the guy to vote for”.

    Oh, wait… didn’t that happen, already?

  3. jgo says:

    I’m more worried about how many votes McCain and O’Bama will siphon off from Bob Barr.

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    The point is that Gore should have won all three of these states. Tennessee was his home state (think about the implications of your home state deciding that you were not the right person to be president). Arkansas was the home state of the outgoing president that Gore served under. West Virginia went democratic 8 of the previous 10 elections (the exceptions being the national blowout elections of 1972 and 1984).
    Given that these should have been winners for Gore, why did he lose them?

  5. PD Shaw says:

    I think the map is being held sideways; its not a vertical stretch that is in play (New York and Alabama are not crucial). It’s a horizontal stretch that constitutes the Upland South, including parts of Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia. And it’s not new, these are states on the border btw/ North and South that have historically been determinative.

  6. Fence says:

    it could come down to Georgia and how many votes Bob Barr siphons off from John McCain

    Doubt it. Barr isn’t going to win that many votes in GA, and if Obama comes within 5% in Georgia he’s well over 300 EVs regardless.

    Unless of course they use a butterfly ballot.