Even international observers are commenting on West Virginia's shift from solid "blue" to solid "red" in national politics.
In its July 7 issue, The Economist of London recounted how Mountain State Democrats gave nearly half their votes to an unknown prison inmate in the 2012 primary election, rather than vote for Democratic President Obama.
The British journal quoted Democratic Hardy County Commissioner A.J. Wade as saying voters in his region would have chosen "Mickey Mouse, if he'd been on the ballot," instead of the incumbent president. Even worse, it quoted Republican Hardy Commissioner Mike Teets as speculating that Obama is gay or a covert Muslim "secretly in cahoots with Osama bin Laden, whose killing he could have faked."
"Mr. Obama is not going to win West Virginia in November," The Economist says, which means that a state with two-to-one Democratic registration will have voted Republican in four consecutive presidential elections.
Why is it happening? The international magazine says it's because West Virginians are "older, whiter, less-educated, more religious and more rural than most of America -- attributes that correlate with voting Republican ... . Then there is the question of race. West Virginia is 93 percent white -- a full 30 points more than the national average."
While 2008 exit-polling data does show more support for John McCain in the state based on race and to some extent on age, education is different. A CNN exit poll showed that West Virginians voted for McCain in about the same proportions at all education levels. College graduates actually voted for McCain in greater proportion than other groups. (West Virginia has America's lowest rate of college graduates. Could it be that a high ratio of them are Republicans?)
So, what is going on? The Republican Party does a great job of vilifying candidates. The GOP mantra of "God, guns and gays" has potent impact in the hills, causing thousands to back the party of the rich.
The London journal reiterates that three top Mountain State Democrats -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall -- won't attend the Democratic National Convention because they don't want to be identified with Obama's renomination.
That's a mark of success by the ceaseless GOP campaign to target anyone of President Obama's party.
A better analysis came from FiveThirtyEight, a New York Times blog, which points out that the greatest sources of conflict between national and West Virginia Democrats are energy and environmental policies.
Coal operators have been trying to convince West Virginia families and local leaders for years that if they could just get rid of the president and his pesky Environmental Protection Agency, then the grand old days of plenty of jobs and thriving coal towns would return. Of course, they won't. Projections for future coal production -- and coal industry employment -- go nowhere but down, mostly because of supply and competition from natural gas. But it's a message that sells. The unknown future is scary. The known past is not.
Is West Virginia's 12-year swing to "red" permanent? Will many state Democrats eventually join the GOP, as Dixie Democrats did? Or will most of them slowly realign with their national party and its humane principles?Democratic Party leaders and thoughtful West Virginians should not give up on the state. Sen. Robert C. Byrd warned West Virginians to face the future. Sen. Jay Rockefeller urged the coal industry to drop its "scare tactics" aimed at state residents. West Virginia needs more such leadership.