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Come On, West Virgina, Is Race Really an Issue?

By Staff | May 20, 2008

The great Mountain State gave Sen. Hillary Clinton an important victory in the West Virginia primary last week on May 13. She defeated Sen. Barack Obama by a margin of 41 percent of the vote and nabbed 20 delegates to Obama’s eight — continually dragging this election process on and on and on and …

Sen. Clinton does indeed appeal to blue collar Democrats and we do have a lot of them. But I didn’t think the margin of victory was going to be so huge. Everyone knew Obama was going to lose but there were few who boldly stated over a 40 percent margin of victory.

I questioned the reason. Perhaps it’s the Clinton’s overall popularity in the state or maybe Obama’s comments in Indiana trickled down the midwest to West Virginia. But then something else sadly came to light.

The following evening I watched “The Daily Show’s” coverage of the West Virginia Democratic primary and listened to the spliced video footage from cable networks that interviewed West Virginians. The clips I saw were awful, with citizens commenting on how Obama’s race was something they don’t trust. Worse yet, the comment that came after was from a woman who didn’t trust him because he was a Muslim (which he’s not) and yet another comment about the fact that his middle name is Hussein. “I don’t want more Hussein!” she shouted into the camera.

Jon Stewart calmly reached for a mug of water, took a sip and then spit it out, shocked.

I was in disbelief, too. This clearly cannot be what the majority of the state thinks. I dismissed these interviews by the cable news channels to be a clear misrepresentation of the populous. They probably did many interviews with residents of West Virginia but chose the most “entertaining” ones to use. It’s no doubt that West Virginia is a certain way, but it gets all the jokes about in-breeding or whatever negative “Deliverance” mentions in the news. We get it, it’s funny to laugh at us. Move on.

But these comments were troubling to say the least, and it has nothing to do with not supporting Obama or supporting Clinton. Clinton is an adept candidate capable at getting votes on her own merits and beliefs. These comments were bad because they are out there, in the news, perpetuating the stereotypes I mentioned above.

Then the day after, I read an article in The New York Times about the West Virginian Democratic Primary. It said the following:

“The number of white Democratic voters who said that race influenced their choice on Tuesday was among the highest recorded in voter surveys in the Clinton-Obama nomination fight. Two in 10 white West Virginia voters said that race was an important factor in their vote, and more than 8 in 10 of them backed Mrs. Clinton, according to surveys of voters leaving the polls.”

I was crushed. Numbers unfortunately do not lie. It’s a sad state of affairs to see that printed in the Times. In the last 10 elections, West Virginia has voted a Democrat for president but the state has gotten a bit more politically conservative with 2000 and 2004 votes for the Republican candidate, President Bush. That trend is a political one and is more or less a mark of the time we live in today. Our country in the past eight years has gotten considerably more conservative based on our elected officials, but this kind of reasoning is unacceptable. I like to think that West Virginia is doing everything it can to shed its public perception as an marginalized state consumed by ignorance. I want to believe that this state is much more than ballots cast, but that statistic is a tough one to ignore.

Contact Ben at bspanner@graffitiwv.com