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Why Buchanan County, Virginia’s election results are important for West Virginia

If you want an indication of Donald Trump’s support in West Virginia, take a look at neighboring Virginia, specifically Buchanan County, which borders the southern tip of our state. The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump won 69.7 percent of the vote in Virginia’s March 1st Republican primary, “the highest percentage of vote he has collected in any U.S. county so far.”*

Demographically, Buchanan County bears a strong resemblance to large swaths of southern West Virginia. It’s a coal-producing county in the heart of Appalachia, overwhelmingly white, lower percentage of college graduates, lower income, higher percentages of people on public assistance.

The Journal reports that voters in Buchanan County “say Mr. Trump understands their frustration and will fight the Washington establishment on their behalf.  In an area awash in uncertainty—Will the mines remain open? Will the river flood? Must the young people leave to find work?—he is a reassuring presence, someone who has visited their living rooms for years via television.”

And, again like southern West Virginia, Buchanan County’s politics have been shifting rapidly from blue to red. Hillary Clinton carried Buchanan County in the Democratic Primary eight years ago, but Trump received three times as many votes as Clinton (1,586 to 523) last month.

The Journal quotes Gerald Arrington, the county’s commonwealth attorney and registered Democrat who supports Trump, explaining that Trump has won over Democrats there because he “speaks for them—he speaks in terms they’re comfortable with.”

Trump has fostered the support by pledging to “bring the coal industry back 100 percent,” providing hope for coal communities that have been devastated by cheaper natural gas, lower demand and punishing regulations from the Obama administration.

“We want a leader,” local mine operator Jeff Taylor told the Journal.  “Trump may be the one with enough backbone to pull back some of the government” regulations.

That sentiment does not stop at the state line; it continues northward through the hollows and over the hills into West Virginia.  The Metronews West Virginia Poll taken last February, when there were still multiple candidates in the race, showed Trump far ahead of the Republican field with 40 percent of the vote.  Texas Senator Ted Cruz, his nearest rival, had only 20 percent.

Rex Repass of Repass Research and author of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll believes voters who feel disenfranchised by Washington are not limited to coal miners in southwestern Virginia and West Virginia.  “Other working class Americans have seen their jobs move overseas and their incomes slashed into the Reagan Democrats in the Carolinas and Middle America.”

West Virginia’s Primary Election is just three weeks away, and we’ll find out then exactly how deep Trump’s support runs in West Virginia. However, if the MetroNews West Virginia Poll and the Buchanan County, Virginia vote are bellwethers, the Mountain State will be Trump territory this election year.

*(Editors note:  The story was written before the New York Primary.)

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