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.