Salena Zito

STAUNTON, Va. – Whether it is called General Lee Highway, as in Virginia, or Molly Pitcher Highway, as in Pennsylvania, the lives and economic strain along U.S. Route 11 tell of a country’s disappointment with Washington – specifically, with President Obama.

The north–south highway, created in 1926, extends more than 1,600 miles from New York to Louisiana. It is one of those blue lines you find on a gas-station road atlas, obscured by the bold red lines of the dominant interstates.

Woodrow Wilson’s home is along this road in Virginia, James Buchanan’s in Pennsylvania.

In between those presidential homes is a very critical battleground in next year’s election, along with a whole lot of resentment that began building early in 2009.

“I used to be a Democrat,” said a quiet older gentleman who declined to give his name, sitting with his wife outside Wilson’s home. “I come from a long line of Democrats. I have to say I couldn’t be more disappointed in this president’s job so far.”

Not so long ago, populist-Democrat rhetoric was popular here and farther up the road, in West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Americans along such roads all across the country are struggling economically. They are consumed with uncertainty. And they have tuned-out the president.

Obama had a rocky start with American voters outside major cities almost immediately, according to Chris Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio.

“Think back again to 2009 – where did he begin to get in trouble?” Kelley asks. “By engaging in hyper-government activism to reform health care, save the environment, make government transparent, while rarely to never talking about jobs.”

This led many to view him as out-of-touch, disconnected, aloof.

Now, Democrats’ strongholds in states such as Pennsylvania and Virginia are quietly walking away from him.

Out here, the sting of dissatisfaction pulls people away from Obama. Yet it doesn’t exactly pull them to the far right; many have settled comfortably at center-right.

Washington’s blame-rhetoric could push Middle America further right, however.

Late last week, the president hit a new low in Gallup’s tracking poll, with 38 percent approval. He blamed “certain” members of Congress for that slide in popularity.

“I have to say, I am tired of the constant blame on everyone but himself,” said John Dattilio, strolling here on a summer evening with his wife and children as they balanced melting ice cream cones.

Obama took to pointing fingers when his poll numbers started to slip last fall.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.