start to transition into general election mode a bit. As the candidates criss-cross the country, we’ll try to add a little background to the places they visit and speculate about why they’re there and what they hope to accomplish.
A good way to kick this off is to look at Senator Obama’s events over the next few days. Tomorrow, he’s heading deep into the part of the country that vexed him throughout the primary season, Appalachia. He’ll be hosting a town hall meeting in Bristol, Virginia, located right on the state's border with Tennessee. Just across the state line is Bristol Motor Speedway, a stop on the annual NASCAR circuit. When running for governor of Virginia in 2001, Democrat Mark Warner capitalized on the area's passion for racing, sponsoring a race truck at the nearby Martinsville Speedway, using the sponsorship to both advertise his candidacy as well as show kinship with the local folks. When driving to New Orleans a few years ago, the fact that there was a Bristol, Virginia and a Bristol, Tennessee confused me to no end.
We know from the primary season (Clinton counties red; Obama counties blue) that Obama fared poorly in the region. I noted last week that the area, however, has been receptive to recent Democratic candidates in statewide elections. Bristol is actually an independent city, not part of a county. Bristol borders Washington County and gave Hillary Clinton a 35 point victory. Looking at its voting in presidential races, Bristol was last won by a Democrat in 1976. LBJ, Truman, and FDR won the city in each of their elections as well. Washington County has largely mirrored Bristol's voting. It hasn't given a Democratic nominee more than 40% since Jimmy Carter in both ’76 and ’80. It did give LBJ a ten point margin in 1964 and voted for FDR in each of his four victories.
Despite its strong support for Republicans at the presidential level, however, the region has had Democratic representation in Congress. Interestingly, Rick Boucher, endorsed Obama early on in the primary season and has managed to represent the ninth district since 1982. Despite Clinton’s 30 point win in the district, Boucher has remained a strong supporter. He has consistently been re-elected by large margins, only getting less than 60% in 1994 and during his first two victories in ’82 and ’84.
Obviously, Obama is showing a willingness to campaign in areas where he needs to build familiarity and trust. This move, in fact, seems to build upon his primary season strategy. In mapping out a plan for capturing delegates, Obama focused on states that one would have thought would have been unreceptive--Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, etc. but that offered, collectively, a bounty of elected delegates. As we know now, this strategy allowed him to tap into areas untouched by a Clinton campaign focused almost entirely on big states. Now that he is the presumptive nominee, he seems equally willing to reach into unfamiliar areas in search of votes. Hoping to turn Virginia blue in November, this seems like a wise strategy from a campaign that has, tactically and strategically, performed brilliantly to this point.