POLITICS

Obama's Appalachia Problem Is Real, But Does It Matter

06/03/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

After months of pundits breaking the electorate into racial categories, the factor of geography is slowly being added to the mix. Obama's alleged problem with white voters is being modified; now the problem seems to be with working class voters in the Appalachian region.

Newsweek recently tried to quantify how race and geography could affect Obama in the fall. They note that while the Appalachian problem is more focused than simply a failure to connect with white working class voters, it is still a big problem:

Appalachia is a big place, encompassing 13 states: southwestern New York, western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, West Virginia, western Maryland, western Virginia, eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, western North and South Carolina, and northern Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. You cannot afford to lose all those states and still win in November. Other pollsters have suggested that the race factor is at least noticeable in a much wider swath of rural America, where 60 million voters reside. One recent Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll of rural voters in battleground states showed that you are trailing McCain by 9 points (and that Clinton runs even with him). Dee Davis, president of a Kentucky-based advocacy group called the Center for Rural Strategies, points out in a recent article on Salon.com that in June 2004, John Kerry trailed George W. Bush by the same 9-point margin in the same rural battlegrounds.

Your mission is to not wind up like Kerry, who ended up losing the rural vote by 20 points. The "reality," writes Davis, "is that when Democratic candidates run competitively in rural America, they win national elections. And when they get creamed in rural America, they lose."

But Democrats to not need to achieve parity with John McCain among this voting bloc in order to win the election. And one analyst says Obama currently, "is clocking in where he needs to be":

Ruy Teixeira, a Democratic analyst of voting trends, wrote the book on the core issue in the endgame of the party's nomination fight. Its title is "America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters."...

Al Gore lost working-class white voters by 17 percentage points in 2000, even while winning the national popular vote. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts lost them by 23 points in 2004, while running within three points of President Bush over all. Mr. Teixeira suggests that Mr. Obama can win the presidency if he comes within 10 to 12 percentage points of Mr. McCain with these voters, as Democratic candidates for the House did in the 2006 midterm election.

Still, what can be done to shore up support? Greg Sargent has an idea:

All this renewed talk about Appalachia reminds me that Obama privately promised John Edwards that he'd undertake a poverty tour in the general election. Why not take that tour, with Edwards at his side, right through the heart of Appalachia?

And Will Thomas reported on Sen. Jim Webb's intense interest and knowledge about the troubles faced by the Scot-Irish community that makes up the Appalachian population at issue. Webb has been repeatedly mentioned as a vice president for Obama, and could help to balance out support.

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