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On the Road: Morgantown, “West By-God Virginia”

“The following midnight I took the Washington bus; wasted some time there wandering around; went out of my way to see the Blue Ridge; heard the bird of Shenandoah and visited Stonewall Jackson’s grave; at dusk stood expectorating in the Kanawha and walked the hillbilly night of Charleston West Virginia.”

— Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”

Dead Leaves -

As we write this post, John McCain is projected to win West Virginia by 0.1%. Where did that come from? We had heard Joe Scarborough tell us the night of the West Virginia primary that Barack Obama couldn’t win states like this. So once we were in Marietta, right across the river, we had to find out.

We stopped in the college town of Morgantown, on the first day of West Virginia early voting. Obama has six main offices, 14 satellite offices in the state, and Obama for America State Director Tom Vogel told us that during the GOTV phase, all 55 counties in the state will have early voting and weekend GOTV rallies. In Charleston on the 25th, for example, the campaign is holding a live music street fair just two blocks from an early voting location.

We met Beri Fox, a small business owner from Paden City, West Virginia, who voted for Bush twice but is supporting Barack Obama this time. Fox, who owns a glass manufacturing company in her Ohio River town, told us that her industry had been decimated by overseas competition. “Do you know how many glass manufacturing companies there used to be? 250. Then it dropped to 100. Today,” she paused, “there are seven.” Fox is supporting Obama because the economic trickle down policies Republicans have promulgated for thirty years haven’t worked.

When we asked Vogel why he was confident about Obama’s chances in a state nearly everyone had written off until the recent surge in polling, he pointed out that Democrats had 20 open offices, over 30 paid staff and thousands of volunteers. (McCain, by contrast, has one Charleston office open and one paid staffer.)

Vogel pointed out that West Virginia had voted for Dukakis and that was considered blue until Al Gore ignored the state. You have to show up here and meet the voters, Vogel noted. “Just eight years ago we were a blue state that suddenly went red. Now we’re a red state going blue.”

As for what to watch for on Election Night, Vogel said that Obama needed big turnout in the southern portion of the state, and that if Obama is even close to even in Putnam and Berkeley Counties, two traditional Republican strongholds, he would win the state. Putnam, just west of Charleston, went for George Bush by 25.5% in 2004, and won Berkeley, home of Martinsburg, by 26.8%.

Yes We Van -

By chance we stumbled upon a Nader/Gonzalez office in Morgantown, and thought we might’ve had a real story to report. Peering in the locked office front, it looked as if nobody had been inside in weeks.

Whatever happens in West Virginia, it is clear the campaigns are taking the state seriously. Sarah Palin visited the state the other day, defending a state that was supposed to be John McCain’s 190th electoral vote. Joe Biden, for his part says, “We’re gonna win West by-God Virginia.”

Even if West Virginia, whose polls close at 7:30 eastern on Election Night, is too close to call right out of the gate, John McCain is in for a long night.

Welcome to the New Battleground -