Republicans, Democrats Debate Rural Politics
The Washington Post published an article today on tension between rural and suburban Democrats. Here are some comments that didn't make it into the article that could offer further insight into the state of the Democratic Party in rural Virginia.
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said the fact there are no committee chairmen from southwest Virginia is "a pretty good indication" Democrats are going to focus on "the Golden Crescent," a reference to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
"It sounds like there is an intentional desire to cut the less populated areas of the state out of any leadership positions," Griffith said.
But Griffith added he thinks incoming Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) is "smart enough to figure out what he's got to do" to keep harmony within the Democratic caucus. Even so, Griffith suspects that rural Virginians will continue their two-decade-long migration away from the Democrats.
"I think the national party and the leadership, by in large, of the Democrats in Virginia is just out of step with the rest of the state," Griffith said. "The public doesn't remember long, and they may have forgot what it is like to have a Democratic majority, but we will soon find out."
Joseph Puckett, a Democratic strategist from southwest Virginia whose father is Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell), said Democrats from Northern Virginia will have to continue to look out for the economic well-being of rural parts of the state.
"Southwest Virginia doesn't want to be subsidized by Northern Virginia, but that is just how it has to work in order for us to survive," Joseph Puckett said. "Southwest Virginia says 'let us help ourselves so you don't have to subsidize us 20 years from now'."
Joseph Puckett, 30, says he has no plans to seek elective office. But in the interview, he came across as a forceful spokesman for the Democratic cause in rural Virginia.
He spoke of about why he thinks Republicans have been fooling rural voters into supporting their candidates in some recent statewide elections.
"I think the national Republican Party has taken advantage of social issues in the South and in the Bible Belt that is strong in Southwest Virginia. But I think they took that trust and misused it to gain support.
"These people who believe in social issues are also hourly workers, union workers, people who work hard for what they get. They are being hurt by the national Republican Party, which has sold out to corporate America. I think people in southwest Virginia and rural America are starting to figure that out.
"I am very proud of the fact the people of Southwest Virginia have such a strong moral stride, but I hate they were duped by the national Republican Party to follow them on social issues, only to be stabbed in the back on economic issues."
George Sterling, the 5th District Republican committee chairman, said the GOP appears to be as strong as ever in southern Virginia.
"You keep hearing people say the party is in bad shape," Sterling said. "I just don't see that. Not in my neck of the woods anyway. Things are improving in Iraq, that helps the President."
Democratic strategist Dave "Mudcat" Saunders said his party's prospects are improving in rural areas because racial tensions are subsiding.
"What is happening in Southside, Southwest and all over rural Virginia is every white person now has a great black friend and every black person has a great white friend," Saunders said.
Saunders, who is based in Roanoke, admits the issues of gay rights and illegal immigration continue to be used as wedge issues, but he doesn't think they will have much traction in the long-term.
On illegal immigration, Saunders said: "Bubba thinks illegal means just that -illegal- so enforce the laws."
On gay rights, Saunders said: "I think most people down here have one big worry - if government can come into my house and see if I am bed with a man, they can also come into my house and get my gun. Government stops at the door."
December 11, 2007; 3:41 PM ET
Categories: Tim Craig
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