West Virginia bucked the national trend on election day and voted for GOP candidate John McCain over Barack Obama.
McCain beat Obama by the same 13% margin as President Bush won by in 2004.
But Obama did much worse in the state’s southern coalfields than Senator John Kerry did in 2004 – while he did much better in the more affluent eastern panhandle.
On his way to being elected president on Tuesday, Barack Obama enjoyed big wins in several formerly “red” states Tuesday, including neighboring Ohio and Virginia.
But not West Virginia. Republican John McCain won big here -- the third GOP presidential victory in a row – even though Democrats gained three seats in the state Senate and won every statewide elected office.
That difference – red for president, blue for almost everything else – has state Democratic chairman Nick Casey confused.
“It’s just the peculiarity of this of this national race. To me, we’re a solidly Republican presidential state, but everywhere else, we’re a solidly Democratic state. It’s something I haven’t been able to figure out,” Casey said.
Until this year, West Virginia was considered a swing state in presidential elections. But in this year’s vote, West Virginia was “redder” than traditionally GOP states such as South Carolina and Texas. In fact, McCain did better here than in his home state of Arizona.
McCain won by 13% – the exact same margin President Bush won by in 2004.
But statewide results mask important changes within West Virginia. Compared to the 2004 election, Obama over-performed in some areas and underperformed in others -- this according to an analysis for voter returns by West Virginia Public Broadcasting
In the southern coalfields, Barack Obama did much worse than 2004 Democratic candidate John Kerry.
Mingo County gave Kerry 56 percent of the vote; but only 43% to Obama – a difference of 13%.
Neighboring Logan County supported Kerry with 54 percent of the vote – compared to 43% for Obama, a 11% difference.
In fact, when you rank the counties by how much worse Obama did than Kerry – the coalfield counties rise to the top – Lincoln, Wyoming, Wayne, Mercer and Fayette.
The only county on that list not in the southern coalfields is Hancock in the northern panhandle – which has been devastated by lay-offs in the steel industry.
Even the two coalfield counties that supported Obama by slim margins – McDowell and Boone – supported Kerry by much, much larger margins in 2004.
Meanwhile, Obama did much better among voters in the more affluent eastern panhandle and Monongalia County, home of West Virginia University.
Marybeth Beller, a political science professor at Marshall University, said the answer is complicated, but it begins with Obama’s “otherness” – a combination of his name and upbringing in places far away from West Virginia.
She said the lower educational levels in the southern coalfields could explain Obama’s poor performance there, and higher education levels in the eastern panhandle and Morgantown area could explain why he did well there.
In general, higher education levels led voters to be more open to voting for Obama, she said.
She also said that although West Virginia is trending red, that could change. And West Virginians may come to support Obama in larger numbers now that he is president, as they grow used to him.