Old ghosts in rural Ohio

ruralOhiochurchIt's clear, to anyone who reads major newspapers, that one of the story templates of this election is the attempt by top Democrats to reach out to church people. I mean, search this here weblog for the words "Democrats" and "pews." But, apparently, things did not go all that well in rural Ohio during the recent primary, which brings us to the latest snarkfest from the Washington Post Style pages.

It hit me, while reading this, that one of the side effects of the MSM's discovery that there are "good Christians" and even a few "good evangelicals," that this may make it harder for reporters to cover people in the pews who still take conservative stands on basic moral issues, such as the right to life and the definition of marriage. Let me state the obvious, which is that the goal is fair and accurate coverage, not favorable coverage for these folks -- a large percentage of whom live in rural Ohio.

The big questions are stated clearly for us during a visit to Darke County:

For county Democratic Party Chairman James Surber, it is a place to contemplate the most puzzling human behavior. "I have always said that the three most baffling questions you could ponder forever are: What's the meaning and purpose of life? Why is Bruce Willis a star? And why do farmers vote Republican?"

Surber, the elected county engineer who has 110 acres of farmland himself, struggles to change minds. "It's very challenging in an area like this," he says. "Thirty years ago, when I came to this county, it wasn't that way at all. It was nip and tuck. But the 1980s have effected some changes that are almost impossible to deal with. Two issues that have worked against us are abortion and gun owners' rights."

Guns are certainly important to a lot of rural voters, but you would have to say that the Style gods have the major issue right there. Are we actually talking about pro-life Democrats?

We then start hearing from people who are so Christian that they even want to vote for Mike Huckabee. There's rumor. There's hearsay. Yet these voters are also very concerned about the economy. Some of their concerns sound, well, progressive. But many of them voted for Huckabee in rural Ohio. Why?

So this is what the Democratic Party is up against. In 2004, George W. Bush carried Darke County with 70 percent of the vote. His margins in rural Ohio swung the state for him and thus swung the election. Nationally, Bush beat John Kerry in rural counties by 19 points; he defeated Al Gore in rural America by 22 points in 2000, according to the Center for Rural Strategies. Recent polling done by the center, however, has shown some erosion in the GOP's grip on rural voters, driven by the Iraq war, the economy and negative views overall of the Bush administration's stewardship of the nation. Democrats see an opportunity.

"It's all social and cultural," says Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a John Edwards strategist who is now unaligned. "It has nothing to do with policy. It's about wedge politics. And the way you pull wedgies out is simple -- you say it's a lie. I'm talking about on a one-on-one basis, when you are out in the field."

But what if the wedge issues are real?

What this story really, really needs are some voices on the other side. It's crucial to hear these voices that keep saying, "We don't understand. We don't understand. We don't understand why people in rural Ohio believe the way that they do." But is there anyone out there who has lived there forever and feels that they DO understand?

Eventually, we do get to hear from a rural Christian who explains it all, 88-year-old Naomi Winans. One would be tempted to think that the Style folks search for a week to find her. She is perfect.

Ready? This is the end of the story, the final word.

"I'm a Christian lady and I kind of like that Huckabee, Huckletree, however you pronounce it. And I think McCain is too old. And I like that fella who is running against Hillary, and he was my choice until I heard what he said the other day." She wouldn't say what he said. "And I didn't want a woman. That's a man's job being president. I don't think God put a woman here to run the country. Well, her husband was in there already. They don't need that much more money, do they?"

Winans then went out into the rain and cold. She was a Republican voter for Huckabee, someone with whom the Democrats never had a chance.

That explains that.

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