As I hinted at in my post a few days back, the question of why lower income--or more governmentally dependent--white voters have shown a tendency to vote Republican has vexed many on the left for years. Over at The Monkey Cage, John Sides provides some evidence--as produced by Larry Bartels--that white working class voters have not, overall, become more Republican:
What shift to the right there has been seems to be confined to the south. Thus, my highlighting of the Appalachian/Ozark region seems to have some confirmation. When I was doing some Google surfing last night trying to track down some writing on this region, I came across this story that I remembered from back in the fall of 2008. In it, you get a sense of the obstacles--and opportunities--that Democrats have among these voters. While I noted the success of Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996, the New Yorker piece uses Virginia Senator (and previously Governor) Mark Warner as a more modern example of how Democrats can win in the hollers. Here's a map of the 2001 Virginia Governor's race, won by Warner:
As you can see, Warner did exceptionally well in the southwestern corner of the state, allowing him to pad the large lead that he built up in the much more solidly DC suburbs. Ultimately, Barack Obama wasn't able to duplicate Warner's success in this region. Nonetheless, he became the first Democrat to win the Commonwealth since Lyndon Johnson.
In the end, as candidates prioritize where they spend their time and resources and how they put together a strategy, they must confront the reality of where they are likely to be successful. Coalitions (and the size of their component parts) are cobbled together. The math begins to take over. Despite the fact that those voters discussed in the NYT story might seem like they "should" vote Democratic, so much history suggests that they won't, regardless of how much effort is expended. In states like Virginia that offer large numbers of other more reliable coalition members (minorities for example), winning the state remains a possibility. In other states--say Kentucky--there exists no realistic path to victory given the composition of the electorate. Hence, a candidate like Obama turns his attention elsewhere.