Appalachian voters have turned on technocratic liberalism, and that could mean trouble for Hillary Clinton in the general election.
In that, she inherits Barack Obama’s troubles. Clinton has ran her campaign as the continuation of Obama’s successes, and she’ll have to grapple with the baggage that comes with Obama among rural voters. Obama struggled in the region after disparaging remarks in April 2008. “It’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” he said.
Clinton has done well among African-American voters, but her margins have fallen dramatic in Appalachia compared to 2008.
“That mountainous stretch handed Clinton some of her most staggering reversals: In Ohio’s Galia [sic] County, along the West Virginia border, Clinton’s share of the vote fell by 30 percentage points; by 33 in North Carolina’s Graham County, abutting Tennessee,” Bloomberg noted.
Many of her county wins in Appalachia Ohio were narrow over Bernie Sanders, her biggest win coming in Mahoning County, where Youngstown is located, with 59 percent of the vote. In a general election against Donald Trump, she’ll struggle to win all but a handful of Appalachian counties if voting patterns don’t shift.
Nor is her problem relegated to Appalachia. She struggles among white voters in rural areas in general. When Bloomberg examined rural county vote results compared with the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton saw her vote share fall by more than 20 percent in more than two dozen counties across rural Ohio, North Carolina, and Missouri.
That problem might disappear after the primary. There hasn’t been a #NeverClinton movement comparable to #NeverTrump, and Sanders supporters could shift their votes to Clinton easily in a general election where her opponent is Trump. Her problems caused by Sanders among Democrats might be less serious.
A deeper problem, however, will be attracting Appalachian and rural voters. She isn’t ignoring it, either, as The Atlantic observed.
“Trump is playing on their fears of economic, cultural and racial dispossession. Clinton needs to show that, even in defeat, it’s still their country, too,” Peter Beinart wrote.
She’s talked about empathy in her speeches when it comes to Trump supporters, asking her audiences to “put yourselves in their minds” and “we’ve got to reclaim the promise of America for all of our people. Every single one of them.”
Clinton will need more than words for those voters, however. Her aggressive foreign policy and lip service to job creation, so far, have done little to affect their lives or attract their voters.