October 10, 2004


Conservative values hold sway in West Virginia: Republicans advance in a state that had long been a Democratic Party stronghold (Dennis Roddy, 10/10/04, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

There are 10 states deeply in play in this year's election pitting Bush against Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. West Virginia is arguably the oddest of the lot. With a paltry five electoral votes and a populace so deeply rooted in the Democratic Party that the Republicans sometimes fail to offer a full slate for statewide office, the state has spent seven decades as a total write-off in national elections. Republicans viewed it as no more accessible than its rutted hillsides and unmarked switchback roads. This year, though, pollsters are reading West Virginia like an ancient text -- locating new meanings in its people, seeing past the tired stereotypes and unlearning years of assumptions.

West Virginia was carved out of the conflicting impulses of the Appalachian mind in the first years of the Confederacy. Its people were Southern in disposition and too independent to ally themselves with the aristocrats of the plantation lands to the east.

Coal became the major source of wealth and of poverty. In Mingo County, along the banks of the Tug Fork River, hard by the Kentucky border, the local paper boasts of being "in the heart of the Trillion Dollar coal field." Census figures show that one in three Mingo Countians lives below the poverty line.

In the state's center, Harrison County two years ago gave rebirth to the Republican Party with a club that celebrates free enterprise. Its members also boast of being home to the FBI Fingerprint Center and a Department of Defense biometric identification center -- pork-barrel gifts of Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd.

At the far end of one street in Matewan in Mingo County, Bob Stone is building a union hall for a town with no union. Eighty-four years ago, coal miners traded gunfire with company detectives, sparking an all-out war in the coal fields. Stone's local was dissolved several years ago, and the last unionized mine in the county shut down just a few weeks back.

At the opposite end of the state, Tim Ahalt is installing another garage door in a moonscape of a housing development outside Martinsburg, Berkeley County. He puts in 25 a week. Order a new house now and they might break ground sometime next year.

In the southern part of the state, trains groan with coal, but they're shorter than in years past, and they sigh and clack through river towns with a whistle that moans.

Back in Martinsburg to the northeast, one of three evening commuter trains wails into the station and disgorges 60 men and women coming home from work in Washington, D.C.

"You get used to it," said John Campolieto, a 63-year-old D.C. office worker who spends 90 minutes on the train each way. High-tech companies locating inside the Beltway now tell their workers to look outside old suburbs such as Fairfax County, Va., and to consider the eastern panhandle.

"You can sell a $1 million house in Fairfax, come out here and get the same house on a bigger lot for half the price, or even less."

Campolieto is voting for Bush and Byrd -- guns and butter, as it were. A visitor hears much the same talk in the deepest recesses along the Tug Fork.

West Virginia, already Republican at the presidential level, is precisely the kind of place where the GOP will be able to exploit the divergence of the Democratic Party from the social values of most Americans and gradually take over at the statewide level as well--one example of why Republican hegemony over Congress is guaranteed in the coming years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 10, 2004 3:28 PM

Byrd & maybe even Rockefeller may be replaced with Republicans.

Now, how about re-naming every public works project in the state from Byrd to. . . ?

Posted by: at October 10, 2004 6:53 PM

Previous post by me - forgot to sign in.

Posted by: Oswald Booth Czolgosz at October 10, 2004 6:55 PM

Bejus, OJ. Ten points! Had to turn over that bon mot about 6 times before it registered. What's the bill for the taffy?

Posted by: ghostcat at October 10, 2004 9:18 PM

Great. Now I've got a John Denver song running in my head and I can't get rid of it. Thanks a lot, oj.

Posted by: joe shropshire at October 10, 2004 10:05 PM

Country roads
take Bryd home
to the place
where he was hatched.
West Virginia
country moron
take Byrd home.

Posted by: H.D. Miller at October 10, 2004 10:22 PM

Byrd will have to go home to his Lord, before he gives up his senate seat.

I remember 25 years ago when the citizens of West Va were protesting the school textbooks that the enlightened ones were proposing to buy. The network blowdrys treated them like a bunch of monkeys. paybacks nasty aint it.

Montani Semper Liberi

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 10, 2004 10:28 PM


But he will one day.

Posted by: oj at October 10, 2004 10:34 PM

We've been waiting a long time for Castro to kick the bucket.
Byrd might live to be 100.

He's one example among many of why US Congressional term limits would be an excellent idea.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 11, 2004 12:38 AM


they'll both die though, right?

Posted by: oj at October 11, 2004 8:51 AM

A year or so ago, I saw a movie in which some dopey college kids drove down a side road in West Virginia and were attacked by cannibalistic, inbred mutants. My immediate thought was 'Isn't Robert Byrd in this flick?'

It is inconceivable that West Virginia would ever vote him out of office, every place there where any two boards are nailed together has his name on it. He has insured a totally disproportionate flow of taxpayer money goes to that ridiculous little state.

Posted by: Bart at October 11, 2004 10:29 AM

Byrd is very sick and will not win his next election, should he decide to run again.

Too many of his contemporaries are already gone, and he does not have the sentimental aura of a Strom Thurmond.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 11, 2004 12:06 PM