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Appalachia and 2008

Nate Silver, an Obama supporter, and master of the must-read election site fivethirtyeight.com, answered a question from us in his Washington Post live-chat regarding this years elections.

J-Dub:What is the significance of Appalachia in a general election? Is it worth campaign resources to invest in Appalachia as a geographic region with tentacles in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, rather than state-by-state? Thanks!

Nate Silver: The Obama campaign has been playing with a pretty big map, but the one area that they clearly seem to have excluded is Appalachia. There are arguments that they should have staffed up West Virginia, where some polling has had it reasonably close, but I think their feeling is that they had such a frustrating time there during the primaries that they don’t want to fight an uphill battle again. The dire state of the economy may help them from getting completely blown out in those areas, however, as might any last-minute campaigning by the Clintons.

He adds:

The region of the country that I call the “highlands” — ranging from Missouri through Tennessee and Kentucky and West Virginia — is the one place where the Republicans have held their ground while the rest of the country is becoming bluer.

While Kentucky and Tennessee remains uncompetitive, as is the usual, Appalachia will play an enormous role in the swing states that decide this election. Per fivethirtyeight.com, lets take a look at the states with significant Appalachian portions:
–McCain – Obama
KY – 56.7 – 42.2 (McCain +14.5)
NC – 49.1 – 49.0 (McCain +0.1)
OH – 47.7 – 50.1 (Obama +2.4)
PA – 45.5 – 52.3 (Obama +6.8)
TN – 55.9 – 42.1 (McCain +13.8)
VA – 47.3 – 51.7 (Obama +4.4)
WV – 51.0 – 46.7 (McCain +3.3)

McCain posts an average, unweighted lead of 2.6% in these states. However, if you remove the numbers from the uncompetitive races in TN and KY, Obama actually takes a lead of 2% in these states. While the political will of Appalachia doesn’t have any direct bearing on the eventual result of the electoral college, the fact that both parties are competitive here, and the fact that many of the most important states in the 2008 hinge on Appalachia bodes well for our relevance in future Presidential contests and the amount of attention candidates will pay to our region. In fact, it seems that Virginia’s emergence as a potential swing state has brought Senator Obama and McCain here much more than average, including several stops in SW Virginia, a key region of the state.

Lets look at each state’s “tipping point” potential, according to FiveThirtyEight.

In other words, these are the states that are the most probable to deliver the electoral votes that will put either Obama or McCain over the magic number of 270, and thus into the Presidency. Ohio and Pennsylvania we knew would be important, but to see Virginia competitive, and especially North Carolina, shows that Appalachian states are increasing our importance in electoral politics. West Virginia has also been increasingly close over the last few weeks.

All this said, take note that these numbers are crunched during Obama’s best week of polling in the general election, and that if numbers even out a little more, North Carolina and West Virginia may not be competitive for him.

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