Obama Shut Out in West Virginia

Photograph by Dave Martin/AP Photo

Snow surrounds the polling precinct in Terra Alta, W.Va., as Peter Hough heads to work after casting his ballot on Nov. 6, 2012.

Here’s something President Barack Obama couldn’t do in victory that even George McGovern and Barry Goldwater mustered in landslide defeats.

Win a county in West Virginia.

It’s apparently the first time in history that a major-party presidential nominee failed to carry any of West Virginia’s 55 counties, according to a Political Capital review of election statistics.

The reference book “American at the Polls,” which has county-by-county presidential election data back to 1920, didn’t yield an example.

Political analyst Rhodes Cook, an expert in election statistics, checked the pre-1920 data and said the closest to a shutout came in 1864, in West Virginia’s first election since achieving statehood a year earlier, when President Abraham Lincoln won all but one county (Wetzel) against George McClellan. West Virginia didn’t have a full complement of 55 counties in those days, Cook noted in an e-mail.

The anti-Obama feeling in West Virginia, where the president won just 35.5 percent of the vote on Nov. 6, owes partly to many voters thinking his administration is pursuing a “war on coal.” Mitt Romney and Republican allies said this over and over again in television ads that West Virginia residents saw on Charleston television stations, even if the spots were primarily directed at southeastern Ohio residents in a swing state. Obama’s proposal for a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions is unpopular, as is his Environmental Protection Agency.

West Virginia’s antipathy toward Obama predates his presidency, though. In the 2008 West Virginia Democratic primary, he lost the state by 67 percent to 26 percent to Hillary Clinton. The president lost 41 percent of the vote and 10 counties to Texas inmate Keith Russell Judd in the May Democratic primary.

Goldwater won four West Virginia counties in 1964, when he took 32 percent of the statewide vote. McGovern managed to win Logan County in 1972, when he took 36 percent of the statewide vote. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, carried West Virginia in an election he lost decisively.

Logan, a coal-dependent area in southwestern West Virginia, shunned Obama on Nov. 6 as it voted overwhelmingly for other Democratic candidates. Logan County gave Obama just 29 percent of the vote compared to 79 percent for Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, a Logan County native, and 75 percent for Senator Joe Manchin and 67 percent for Representative Nick J. Rahall II, according to unofficial Associated Press tallies. Logan was also one of the 10 counties Obama lost to Judd in May.

Obama’s vote share in Logan fell 15 percentage points from 2008. As recently as the 2000 presidential election, Logan was the third-best West Virginia county for Al Gore, who took 62 percent there even as he lost the state to George W. Bush. Obama suffered a 21-point drop in Boone County, which is between Logan and Kanawha County in and around Charleston.

The closest Obama came to carrying a West Virginia county on Nov. 6? The president took 47 percent in Jefferson, which includes some Washington, D.C., commuters in the state’s easternmost county, and 44 percent in Monongalia, which takes in West Virginia University in Morgantown.

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