The Bush Factor
Presidential politics and the Mid-Ohio Valley.
I admit, although this has nothing to do with my presidential preference, I have been waiting nearly the entire campaign (since the start of 2007) to make this comment.
I believe a lot of people in West Virginia-regardless of political party affiliation-will miss George W. Bush.
Not because of anything he did for the state while in office. I agree that's been minimal.
It's because of the prominence he brought to the state as a force in presidential elections. It might even be the reason John McCain has been leading in most of the state presidential polls for nearly the length of the fall campaign.
I have been covering both sides of the Ohio River now for 30 years, and I don't remember any president or presidential candidate who has appeared in the state as much as Bush did during the past eight years. Candidate and President Bill Clinton came fairly close.
I think it can be said now that part of the Bush campaign strategy (whether it came from Karl Rove or President Bush himself) was to win rural areas, and offset the heavily-Democratic vote in large cities and/or urban areas.
But before then-candidate Bush campaigned in West Virginia in 2000, presidential campaigns largely ignored the state. And for the same reason. Republicans and Democrats both said "why bother?" since the voter registration was and is heavily Democratic.
Then-candidate Bush apparently saw it differently. On his way to the Republican Convention in 2000, he appeared in Charleston. He made other appearances in Charleston and Huntington during the campaign that fall. By contrast, I remember one appearance by Al Gore that fall, in Huntington.
And if you don't think Bush's win in West Virginia that fall didn't have any impact, consider this: if Gore had won the state and its five electoral votes on election night, he probably would have won the election, regardless of how Florida turned out.
At the time, I didn't think that would happen in 2004. And, in fact, the Kerry-Edwards campaign did pay more attention to the Mountain State that year. But so did the Bush campaign. President Bush did even better in West Virginia that year. We all know that included appearances in the Parkersburg area. President Ronald Reagan campaigned in Parkersburg as well, in 1984, but while Reagan won West Virginia that year (the first time a Republican had done so in nearly three decades), that didn't have any impact on the outcome of the national election.
I think local party officials have been disappointed in the lack of appearances by presidential and vice-presidential candidates going into the last weekend before the election. So far, we've had Barack Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, in Marietta, and John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, making a stop there this past weekend (after an earlier stop a few weeks ago for apple cider, on her way to a rally in St. Clairsville). That's in stark contrast to 2004, where the area seemed like the center of the political universe.
In fairness, the candidates did pay more attention to West Virginia during this year's primary. Perhaps it's because Hillary Clinton won the Mountain State Primary (while losing the nomination to Senator Obama), that it hasn't been as widely targeted this fall. But with the nation still evenly divided politically, it's hard to ignore any state while on the road to the White House.
That may be the political, if not policy, lesson, of the Bush years.