November 16, 2004


West Virginia Heads Down a Political Road Less Taken (JAMES DAO, 11/16/04, NY Times)

On the eve of the presidential election, Democrats here could practically taste victory for Senator John Kerry.

Senator Robert C. Byrd, the party's revered elder statesman, headlined boisterous rallies that seemed to augur a huge Democratic turnout. Coal miners and steel workers pounded on doors urging loyalists to vote. All that remained was for Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in this state by two to one, to do what they have done so many times before: vote the party line.

But they did not. President Bush trounced Mr. Kerry by 13 percentage points, doubling his margin of victory in West Virginia from 2000 and becoming the first Republican since William McKinley to win this once reliably Democratic state twice.

The Democrats' bad news did not end there. Kenneth Hechler, a 90-year-old former congressman, was soundly defeated for secretary of state by a little-known Republican, Betty Ireland, despite outspending her by more than two to one. Justice Warren McGraw of State Supreme Court, a fiery populist, was thrashed in his bid for re-election by a novice Republican candidate backed by business groups and coal operators. And three Democratic state senators were unseated by Republican insurgents.

"I'd love to say I saw it all coming," said Gov. Bob Wise, a Democrat who is stepping down at the end of the year. "But I thought we were going to win."

Drawn by a powerful conservatism on issues like abortion, gun control and same-sex marriage, and fed up with the state's shrinking population and perpetually high poverty rates, voters are leaving the Democratic Party in substantial numbers, party leaders say.

The defections have so alarmed the state chairman, G. Nicholas Casey Jr., that he sent a memorandum to county leaders this week demanding that they pledge loyalty to the party or resign their positions.

"We need to step back and look hard at our party," Mr. Casey wrote. "The Republican Party has become a force and it is a unified force."

Folks who think these places are in a delicate state of Red/Blue equilibrium and can tilt either way in a given election are kidding themselves. Just because we haven't quite hit the tipping point of realignment doesn't mean we aren't about to.

For some perspective check out this factoid, Nevada's Reid Tapped to Lead Dem. Caucus (DAVID ESPO, AP)

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada won election as Senate Democratic leader on Tuesday, taking over a party with fewer seats than at any time since the Great Depression more than 70 years ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 16, 2004 11:09 AM

Keep telling them the Bible will be banned.

Posted by: Wm D at November 16, 2004 11:48 AM

When is California going to reach the tipping point? I don't know how much longer I can stand it here.

Posted by: Ken at November 16, 2004 12:13 PM

They've got veteran otogenarian Bobby Byrd in the Senate and they're running 90-year-olds for Secretary of State? Here's a political party that's got its new blood for the future state offices flowing, all right, especially if they can keep that young whippersnapper Jay Rockefeller in office.

Posted by: John at November 16, 2004 12:16 PM

The defections have so alarmed the state chairman, G. Nicholas Casey Jr., that he sent a memorandum to county leaders this week demanding that they pledge loyalty to the party or resign their positions.

i.e. Force loyalty to The Party. Purge those disloyal to The Party.
The Party,
The Party,
The Party,
The Party,
The Party...

Remind you of any other "The Party" that made a big splash back in the 20th?

Posted by: Ken at November 16, 2004 12:16 PM

I have a place on the Cacapon River in eastern West Virginia, and the withering away of the Democrats in that part of the state is remarkable.

As the labor union base continues to die off, the Democrats will fade away in the southern part of the state too.

Posted by: Earl Sutherland at November 16, 2004 12:43 PM

This is just a return to the norm. Remember that West Virginia broke off from Virginia because Virginia's western counties were pro-union and anti-slavery at the time of the Civil War.
With union members seeing that the Dems are hurting their industries, and the Dems having otherwise abandoned the best interests of working Americans and blacks, it's no surprise that West Virginians are coming home to the anti-slavery party.

Posted by: Steve at November 16, 2004 12:54 PM


With Hollywood and San Fran in your state, you're not going to live long enough to see it.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at November 16, 2004 1:05 PM

This is an important harbinger of the future. The Democrats made a conscious decision in the 70s and 80s to make inroads among 'progressive' upper-middle income voters, particularly women. This required them to abandon their working-class base, as well as to shut the door to anyone more conservative than Barney Frank on cultural and social issues.

Further, because these suburban and urban trendnoids pat themselves on the back for being so 'internationalist', 'cosmopolitan', and 'sophisticated,' the Democrats also decided to abandon their previous strong national defense and patriotic posture. West Virginia working class voters, who believe in a personal relationship with G-d, who adhere to traditional values, and are proud of flag, hearth, hollow and home were just too outre'.

To the extent that the national Democrats responded to them at all, it was treating them like the undesirable relative in a wealthy family, they would shell them out a few bucks from time to time on condition that they were never heard from again.

West Virginians, who like all Americans, are people with pride and dignity, have tired of this high-handed behavior. The GOP has made inroads in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania with these voters and this can only continue, as the Democrats continue to alternately ignore and insult fly-over country.

Posted by: Bart at November 16, 2004 1:33 PM

Bart is right about when the Democratic party began abandoning its true base.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at November 16, 2004 6:07 PM

It's a sad day indeed when Democrats start acting like Republicans with their pledges of fealty.

Posted by: Wm D at November 16, 2004 7:49 PM

Bush is charming, and willing to campaign for Congressional candidates.

The country is at war, and Americans feel martial.

Neither factor will be permanent, and I'll be gobsmacked if the Republicans don't lose House seats in '06.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at November 16, 2004 9:46 PM

The war is unpopular and badly damaged his candidacy. He's the most unpopular president ever to be re-elected.

Posted by: oj at November 16, 2004 9:52 PM


The GOP will have an enormous money advantage and has lost some seats that were hanging on by a thread in 2004, My guess is that barring some disaster, you'll be gobsmacked.

Posted by: Bart at November 16, 2004 10:12 PM

And a 6 to 8 point advantage in turnout.

Posted by: oj at November 16, 2004 10:22 PM

Very perceptive comments.

As a Wv'n and a GOP voter (and supporter since I was 3 years old) I think that the national Democratic party's arrogance and alienation from the values, both moral and political, of the average WV resident, and the fact that, as John noted, there are no new ideas nor new faces in the WV Dem party have created a golden opportunity for the state GOP.

The problem is that it has a small talent base. Most of the good candidates are either in office or so badly burned by defeat that it is hard to motivate them. There is a small clique which has ran the party for years and feels somewhat aghast at having to surrender power to the newcomers who swell the ranks. This is similar to the chagrin felt by the old crew of "post office" Republicans in the Deep South in the 50s-70s. Better days are ahead for the GOP in WV, but there are still challenges ahead.

Posted by: cornetofhorse at November 17, 2004 8:59 AM