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One of Hillary Clinton’s campaign stops in West Virginia: a town hall meeting at Westside High School in Clear Fork, May 12
Photo: Carl Cox
Not since John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign has West Virginia shined in the spotlight of a presidential primary. For a native West Virginian like me, born long after Kennedy’s death, the idea that a presidential candidate would come many times and visit many places throughout the Mountain State seemed unreal. However, that is exactly what Hillary Clinton did leading up to the state’s May 13th primary. Her tours of rural towns included stops at local high schools and venues across the southern coalfields.
One could almost say that Clinton felt right at home in West Virginia, which is odd…a graduate of Wellesley College and Yale Law School campaigning and feeling at home in a state where only 16.5% of residents have Bachelor’s degrees.
While the differences between Senator Clinton and those living in the southern coalfields are evident, West Virginia State Representative Richard Browning of Oceana said that Clinton managed to relate to the citizens of small towns across the state. “She knew about the area and knew the problems. They [West Virginians] saw she was one of them and could speak to the issues.”
Having lived in The Mountain State all my life, I know what issues are important to this voting community that much of America forgets, those who live in the cracks and crevices of mountain communities that are struggling to make ends meet. Almost all workers in the state are blue-collar, Clinton’s demographic, and are struggling with the nation’s economic state. The 2000 U.S. Census showed that 68.4% of West Virginians grossed incomes of $50,000 or less; 13.9% of families and 17.9% of individuals live below the poverty line. The economic struggles facing families is exactly what Clinton addressed on her tour of the state, telling Charleston citizens she will work for the “nurse of their second shift, the worker on the line, the waitress on her feet, the small business owner, the farmer, the teacher, the coal miner . . . all of the hard working people who provide for themselves and their children.”
Photo: James Cook
Clinton held a town hall meeting at my former school, Westside High School in Wyoming County. State Rep. Browning was there. He described how Clinton addressed locals with sympathy. “She cares deeply about people,” Browning said. “She wants to restore better health care, better paying jobs, lower gas prices and [change] all the things that happened economically in the last eight years.” Whether it was the caring tone of voice or the hopeful agenda she presented, Clinton reaped what she sowed here and in the neighboring counties. Wyoming, Logan, and Mingo counties returned the highest percentages of votes for Clinton, and in turn the lowest for Obama.
Coal is still king here. Economically, times are rough. Nearly all the residents are white, Christian, blue-collar families without post-secondary education. It was among these white voters without college degrees that Clinton defeated Obama by 50 points.
Richard Browning attributes Clinton’s landslide win not only to future economic goals but to past economic success. West Virginians “prospered” during Bill Clinton’s administration and received increased funding. The state representative, a Democrat, reflects on a time, during the Clinton administration, when West Virginia received upwards of fifty million dollars for earmarks such as state roads. In more recent years, he says, these funding levels dropped to approximately five million. The economic boon and government assistance from Bill Clinton’s era make the Clinton name attractive and promising to many West Virginians.
Hillary Clinton’s economic plan had an obvious appeal for working class voters, who turned out on Tuesday. At her victory rally in the state’s capitol Clinton told supporters, “The number of delegates it takes to win is 2,209 and neither of us [she nor Obama] has reached that threshold yet. This win in West Virginia will help me move even closer.”