Tuesday, September 09, 2008

McCain, Obama visit 2 Lebanons, one really rural

Both major presidential candidates were in Lebanon today -- not the country, but the towns, in Virginia and Ohio. In some ways they were near opposite ends of the vast spectrum that is rural America; the Ohio town and surrounding Warren County are largely suburbanized, though much farmland remains; the other town is something of an oasis in largely distressed southwest Virginia; it has managed to move away from coal mining as its principal source of income by attracting high-tech industries.

"Lebanon's success at attracting high-tech industry has landed it in the Democrats' campaign spotlight," Sue Lindsey of The Associated Press reported in an advance story. (Read more) To win a state that hasn't voted Democratic since 1964, the Obama campaign sees rural voters as the key. Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher told Daniel Gilbert of the Bristol Herald-Courier, “The candidate who is here the most frequently, who communicates about Southwest Virginia needs and concerns most directly, will be the candidate who wins over large numbers of those voters.” (Read more) Boucher's 9th District was the only one Hillary Clinton carried in Virginia's primary.

Boucher told the Lebanon crowd that Obama is a "friend of coal," reports Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton: "Obama pointed to carbon sequestration research and clean coal technology as an integral part of his plan to end dependence on foreign oil. It shouldn’t be too hard to find ways to make alternative energy sources viable if funding and brain power are thrown at the problems."

Deal adds, "In response to a question from a teenage girl about what he plans to do to alleviate poverty in rural America," Obama "pointed to new energy efforts and infrastructure improvements. ... One questioner pointed out that a lot of rural Americans are afraid Obama will 'take their guns away'." Obama replied, “I want to be absolutely clear — I believe in the Second Amendment. I will not take away your shotgun, I will not take away your rifle and I will not take away your handgun.” Deal adds, "Obama added that he believes in 'common-sense gun safety laws,' including background checks and closer tracking of firearms."

Obama still has work to do in the region, based on Deal's interview of Larry Counts, a Dickenson County native who lives in Glade Spring, outside the coalfield. "Counts said many people in the community don’t like the candidate because they think he’s a Muslim, or are afraid of his stance on gun control. 'And I hate to say this, but I think race has a little bit to do with it, too,' Counts said slowly, after a lengthy pause." (Read more; subscription may be required)

Sept. 12: For Deal's follow-up story, with interviews of Obama supporters, click here.
Sept. 10: For the McCain campaign and the national media, the news from Obama's stop was his comment that McCain and Sarah Palin running as the candidates of change is like putting lipstick on a pig. That was part of Nicki Mayo's four-minute report on TriCities.com, the Media General Web site for the Herald-Courier and WJHL-TV. Reporting from the other Lebanon, Ben Fischer of The Cincinnati Enquirer writes, "If there were any doubt remaining about the Republican base, it died during Tuesday's brief morning rally in Lebanon, the beating heart of Ohio Republicanism." (Read more) For a perceptive, thoughtful and funny take on Republicans' small-town theme and Democrats' reactions, from Julie Ardery in the Daily Yonder, click here.

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