West Virginia is thought of as a reliably Democrat state. Democrat Governor Joe Manchin won office in a massive landslide, and both U.S. senators—Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller—are completely safe as Democrat incumbents.Historically, West Virginia’s politics has turned on two things: unions and culture. While the former usually controls electoral outcomes there, the later will likely deliver the state’s Electoral College votes to John McCain, as it did for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.
West Virginia’s economy is dominated by coal-mining and other blue-collar, labor intensive industry. Unions dominate the state’s labor scene, and have made West Virginia a Democrat stronghold for most of the last 108 years.
But the second factor, traditional culture, has two aspects in particular that have made West Virginia a purple swing state in modern presidential elections.
Many West Virginians live in small towns, and are at least moderately religious. With this comes a belief in traditional marriage, commitment to family and a heavy dose of national pride.
Patriotism runs deep in the Mountain State. Nothing speaks more to the West Virginian focus on heritage than their commitment to Second Amendment freedoms. West Virginia is gun country, as are all the states along the Appalachian Trail, where the NRA is strong and the Second Amendment is revered. Democrats are very successful in West Virginia, but almost without exception those Democrats make clear to voters their pledge to fight and protect for the right to keep and bear arms.
In the past two presidential elections those cultural issues drove West Virginia to vote for George W. Bush. Al Gore did not hide his anti-gun credentials in 2000, and lost the state to Mr. Bush by six points. John Kerry similarly did not disavow his anti-gun record in 2004, and added to it his refusal to support traditional marriage. He lost the state to President Bush by 13 points.