With presidential numbers tightening here — between 3 and 5 percent – I’ve gotten "what’s up with West Virginia" questions.  What’s changed?  In my opinion:  the economy.  Folks here are hurting — gas and groceries are up, folks are filling their heating oil tanks…and it isn’t pretty.  

I ran into an old neighbor of ours.  He was a staunch Bush-loving evangelical in 2004 — made calls, knocked on doors, you name it.  He’s voting for Obama this year — the economy is the number one reason why.  He’s had a bellyful of Republican mismanagement, and feels like they used church folks to get into office and line their cronies’ pockets.  Not the first time I’ve heard that.

Early voting starts here on October 15th.  That’s 26 days from today.  Obama is closing here, but hasn’t closed the deal with a hefty chunk of voters.  Here’s why:

During the GOP caucus in February, McCain pulled a "screw Romney" maneuver after he couldn’t muster more than third place. That left some GOP folks pissed.  Obama finished second here in May.  So no commanding lead in core supporters for either.

Our local WVPubCast has done some local folks interviews.  There was a great one before our primary which zeroed in on Obama, Clinton, and on WV political prejudices.   I think Clinton got the edge talking about the kitchen table issues.  And by working her butt off campaigning here in person.  

Obama needs more retail politics here.  Soon.  I’ve said that to Democratic party officials.  Carnacki’s been hitting it, too.

Because we are a "get to know you" kind of state, Obama’s been asked when he’ll campaign here.  A lot – including in a recent Obama interview with a local Huntington station.  In the current electoral map environment, no state can be taken for granted. (hint, hint) 

There was an updated WVPubCast report about WV voters today.  It’s good — I did an extra drive around my block after dropping The Peanut off for kindergarten to listen to it.  

WV has traditionally leaned democratic — on blue collar issues like the economy, labor, health care, education…you name it.  It’s been hardworking folks versus big industry, capped by King Coal, for most of my life.  The marriage of religion and right wing theocracy tipped that balance in recent years.  Inattention to the Dem party machine here hasn’t helped.  

There’s more diversity in the state these days, but some old habits die hard, including old prejudices.  There is a conference this weekend on racism and WV politics.  But that doesn’t explain the recent upsurge for Obama here.

Ultimately, it’s the economy and a desire for change.  McCain offers "more Bush."  Folks don’t want to buy what he’s selling.  Can economic uncertainty trump alleged racial and religious questions?  Or perceived lack of attention to WV by Obama?  Guess we’ll see…or we’ll see changes in the closing days of the campaign itself.

Meanwhile, I’m doing local campaign recon and will report on what I find…