Appalachians could be Obama's stumbling point

A smoky haze hung over the mountains of south-east Virginia yesterday as the sun burned into the pine. Here in the Appalachian Mountains the descendents of Scots-Irish settlers are a stubborn obstacle to Barack Obama's hopes of becoming the first Democratic candidate in 40 years to win in the once proud heartland of the old Confederacy.

While in the northern suburbs near Washington DC voters are in a swoon for Senator Obama’s message of change, two hundred miles south these fiercely independent minded rural people are more sceptical.

At Billie Jo’s breakfast joint, Barack Obama supporters were thin on the ground in what is sometimes called the “redneck belt” of America. Charles Graybill had just given his pack of beagles a morning run. He was scathing about the first-term Illinois senator, but not because he is black.

“I’m not a Democrat or a Republican,” he said, “but what bothers me about Obama is that if he is elected, the people who blow up our troops will be dancing in the streets.”

“I’d rather go with McCain, he’s been around for a while and I don’t believe the president can do much about the economy when the democrats run the Congress.”

“The Democrats are bad on guns and hunting and I think Obama’s got to be a bit of a racist for going to that church in Chicago for so long,” Mr Graybill said.

If the Obama campaign has a big problem to overcome in the weeks ahead, it is here in the Appalachians, which stretch from Vermont to Tennessee. After 40 years of electing Republican candidates to the presidency, polls suggest that Mr Obama has a shot at winning Virginia, the capital of the old Confederacy. To this end his wife, Michelle, was campaigning in the state this week.

It is full of descendents of Scots-Irish immigrants who form the heart of the Christian evangelical movement and have a long tradition of joining the military.

Their champion is US senator and author James Webb, who says that “sophisticated” America misunderstands this culture.

“The Southern redneck is an easy target, with his stubbornness, his capacity for violence and his curious ways,” he says.

Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, an organiser for the Democrats in rural Virginia, agrees and wants the sort of leadership that can forge an alliance between black Americans and the poor whites of the mountains. “The reasons people round here don’t support Obama is not because he’s a black fellow,” he said over a southern breakfast of grits and bacon.

“He’s got to show that he respects and even admires this redneck way of life.

“It’s because he has not connected with them on a visceral level the way Kennedy, Clinton and Carter did. He’s got to show some passion and demonstrate that he respects and even admires this redneck way of life that still shapes our culture,” he said.

The biggest problem the Obama campaign faces here are his remarks that rural people cling to their guns and their religion when times are hard.

“I have a gun ‘cos I always had one and my daddy had one ‘cos he always had one,” said Mr Saunders. “God forbid that I would ever have to use it, but there ain’t nobody going to take it from me.”

“People who don’t even own guns around here are pro gun because they see it as a symbol of liberty,” he added.

Senator Obama has been running ads on the radio promising that he will never take away the guns, but perceptions are harder to erase. There is also the fact that the Republicans are more ruthless when it comes to fighting elections and the perception that the Democratic establishment looks down its haughty nose at poor rural people.

“Obama needs to let loose and show his righteous side in the finishing weeks of this election,” is the advice from “Mudcat” Saunders. “I know he has it in him. My friend the musician Ralf Stanley has endorsed him just because he has gospel music on his iPod, more people around here need to know that kind of stuff.”

But while the locals in Billie Jo’s tolerate Mudcat’s enthusiasm for the Democratic cause they are deeply sceptical that Mr Obama can win Virginia.

“People lie all the time and then they go in the booth vote with their gut, it’s not Obama,” said Tony Anderson, a trial lawyer from Roanoke. “I deal with liars all the time.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas