Salena Zito

All of which is why they became Reagan Democrats: Reagan sided with them on love of country and on economics. Today, the question is whether they will give that same level of support to John McCain.

Many of them respect McCain’s service and dedication to country -- but their pocketbooks have been emptied, and it happened on the Republicans’ watch.

“Economically, they should be voting Democratic,” says Siegel. “In terms of social values, they should be trending Republican. They are a very difficult political target.”

Political analyst and numbers-cruncher Michael Barone has noticed problems for Obama among this voting bloc, which he refers to as “Jacksonian” -- for the famed Scots-Irish president who was a friend to the warrior class in Appalachia.

“I don’t know if it is enough of a problem yet, time will tell,” Barone says. But he believes the challenge for Obama is that he is viewed as an elitist by many of these people.

Along with that, a tinge of racism is at play. But clearly it goes beyond that, to Obama’s style, his substance and the way he carries himself.

Everyone thought Karl Rove and George W. Bush were crazy to spend time and money in West Virginia in 2000; a Democrat-blue state, it only went Republican in 1972 and 1984. What Democrats missed was the change in their party from Bill Clinton to elite -- and it cooked Al Gore and sank John Kerry.

No academic has scientifically determined if Appalachia’s Scots-Irish heritage can predict its natives’ voting patterns.

That means the hows and whys of their vote remain wildly unpredictable -- as well as crucial to Obama and McCain, both of whom can claim Scots-Irish heritage.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.