The Mountain State still has almost 2-to-1 Democratic political registration, and Democrats win most local and state-level elective offices. But West Virginia has "gone red" in the last three presidential elections, favoring Bush-Cheney in 2000 and 2004, and McCain-Palin in 2008.
Will 2012 continue the trend? In the coming campaign, will Democratic President Obama ignore this state, assuming that it's futile to appeal to West Virginia Democrats? That would be sad.
Obviously, thousands of Appalachians are DINOS (Democrats in Name Only) who embrace the GOP's "God, guns and gays" message. The region is somewhat like Dixie, which was the strongly Democratic "Solid South" until Richard Nixon's "southern strategy" employed subtle racism to swing Dixie whites into the Republican fold. Will West Virginia eventually follow?
On election night in 2004, before a single vote was tallied, the Associated Press announced that the state had voted Republican, based on exit polls. "Nearly half of all voters identified themselves as evangelical or born-again," the AP wrote. It said the GOP was backed by "those with ardent patriotism and conservative social values such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage."
In the current primary campaign, Republican candidates are singing the same old God, guns and gays tune -- which undoubtedly is welcome in much of Deep Dixie and rural mountains. But the rest of America is evolving. Better-educated, higher-income, urban Americans are less likely to share Tea Party views. Women especially reject them.
The nonpartisan Pew Research Center says: "There is a cavernous gender gap in the horse-race poll. President Obama leads GOP front-runner Mitt Romney by 20 points among female voters. And Obama leads candidate Rick Santorum by 26 points among female voters."
Pew pollsters found that 80 percent of Democrats anticipate victory for Obama, regardless of who the Republican nominee is -- while only about half of Republicans think the GOP can win the White House in November.
America steadily is turning more secular, so fundamentalists wield less political power. And the young mostly share Democratic values. Pew's director said:
"It is not only that the Millennial generation has come out of the box more liberal, more Democratic. It is that older people are much more conservative and much more Republican than they have been in the past, and the gap between young and old is really very, very big ... .
"Republicans really are the party of white people and especially older white people ... . They have done nothing over the course of this campaign, it seems, to make themselves more favorably viewed upon by Latino voters, more favorably viewed upon by young voters."
Even if West Virginia remains a red state this year, we hope the rest of America does not.