When I saw the county-by-county PA election map on one of the local news stations here, I wasn’t surprised or shocked at all. There it was-Fayette blood red, thus showing me once again that many of the voters there allowed racism and prejudice to cloud their judgement. I thought that Fayette was still Democrat- tried and true, but when a black man is the Democratic candidate, the masses there shy away at the polls. Almost makes me ashamed to tell the folks over here that I’m from “good ole boy” Fayette County. Oh well! Guess Rep Murtha was right!”
This comment was one of many similar postings on our Web site about the recent results of the presidential election in Fayette County where Republican John McCain defeated his Democratic Party counterpart Barack Obama by a margin of 215 votes, 26,081 to 25,866.
It all sounds somewhat true, especially since this was the first time a Republican presidential candidate won Fayette County since Richard Nixon beat George McGovern here back in 1972.
But consider this. Four years ago, George W. Bush took 46 percent of the vote here in losing to John Kerry by a margin of 27,321 to 23,403. It was the best showing by a Republican here since Nixon and probably paved the way for McCain’s victory earlier this month.
But more importantly no one mentioned race at all in the aftermath of Bush’s impressive vote tallies. So, why is anyone talking about it now? Clearly, there was much more than race involved in this election.
There was talk back in 2004 that Fayette County was becoming more conservative and Republican as issues concerning guns and abortions were coming to the forefront. Certainly with all the hunters and Catholics here, there was cause for concern among Democratic Party officials that the Republican Party could use those issues to sway local voters to their side.
With McCain, a strong proponent of both gun rights and the pro-life movement, at the head of the ticket was it really that big of a surprise that he won Fayette County? Consider also that McCain, a war hero and an established politician on the national scene for over 20 years, was running against Obama, a relatively unknown candidate to most local residents.
So, to say that people only voted for McCain because of race is a slap in the face to the overwhelming majority of those who backed the GOP candidate. It’s also an insult to Dee John, the new chairwoman of the Fayette County Republican Party, who worked hard to get out the vote for McCain.
Ironically, I think that John Murtha had the best take of anyone on the presidential election in Fayette County. Appearing before our editorial board, Murtha never mentioned racists or rednecks as he did to other media outlets. Hard to say what he was thinking when he made his comments to them, but when we asked Murtha about how Obama would do here, he said about 5 percent of the people in Fayette County would probably never vote for a black president. But overall, he said Obama would do well and would probably win Fayette County.
While, Murtha was wrong on that count, it does seem probable that he was right about the 5 percent of people who wouldn’t vote for a black president, considering that was approximately the difference between Bush and McCain’s vote totals.
I also think of two other factors. Watching MSNBC on election night, commentator Chris Matthews talked about Obama’s change theme and how it probably had little appeal to voters in Pennsylvania, especially those in the southwest.
He noted that people in this area of the state have seen a lot of changes over the years but not many of them have been good. He pointed out that many young people have to go elsewhere for good jobs, breaking up strong families, which were once the lifeblood of the area.
No matter what you think of Matthews, you have to agree he had a point.
I also sensed that even among those Democrats who voted for Obama, most did so more out a sense of loyalty to the Democratic Party rather than any passion for his cause. But I blame at least part of that on the fact Obama never came here to rally the troops as he did in so many other places. And if you figure that the odds of him coming here were pretty slim, what about Hillary Clinton, who did so well here last spring, or Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden, who had some appeal with his Pennsylvania roots? I think it’s possible that a stop by someone of national prominence on Obama’s behalf might have been able to keep Fayette County from going red.
But while we can probably talk all day about why McCain won here, there could be a real upside to his strong showing. For too many years, the Democratic Party has had an overwhelming edge over Republicans in voter registration numbers. It’s been so lopsided that state and national Democratic Party officials took us for granted while their Republican counterparts avoided us like the plague, figuring they had no chance of winning any votes here.
Perhaps this election will change all of that. Maybe now both sides will pay more attention to our wishes and needs. And if that happens we’ll all be winners, no matter our party affiliation.
Mark O’Keefe is the executive editor of the Herald-Standard. O’Keefe can be reached by e-mail at mo’firstname.lastname@example.org, by regular mail at 8-18 Church St., Uniontown, Pa., 15401 or by phone at 724-439-7569.