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May 23, 2012 8:45 AM On Obama’s Greater Appalachian Problem

By Colin Woodard

I was going to regale you all with a brilliant, American Nations-powered analysis of President Barack Obama’s less than stellar performance in the West Virginia and Kentucky Democratic primaries, but am pleased to see that Alec MacGillis has already done so over at The New Republic. MacGillis writes:

Obama certainly is a vulnerable incumbent, as suggested by the latest national polling showing him only slightly ahead of Mitt Romney. But Kentucky and Arkansas offer little in the way of affirmation. For the hundredth time, let me suggest that people take a look at this map. It shows the counties where Obama in 2008 got a lower share of the general election vote than John Kerry had… It is a virtually contiguous band of territory stretching from southwestern Pennsylvania through Appalachia and across the Upland South, finally petering out in north-central Texas. It is, almost to a T, what Colin Woodard, in his fascinating new ethnographic history of North America, American Nations, defined as the territory of the Borderlanders…

Indeed, as I pointed out in the book, Obama is terribly unpopular in Greater Appalachia, whose borders you can examine here. The thing is, so is Mitt Romney, who lost by wide margins to (Appalachian favorite) Rick Santorum or (Deep Southenrner) Newt Gingrich in primary contests from Mississippi and Alabama to Ohio and Illinois. Both men are seen as highly educated Yankees with a questionable commitment to the Southern Evangelical worldview: not a winning combination to begin with, and only worsened if you happen to be African American or Mormon.

Bottom line: Greater Appalachia has always been a lost cause for Mr. Obama, but Mr. Romney is unlikely to inspire an unprecedented rush to the polls to bolster his chances of taking key swing states like Ohio, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, each of which have significant Appalachian sections. Instead, I suggest, look to the Midlands….

Colin Woodard is State and National Affairs Writer at the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram and author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.
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