When Bubba Meets Obama
If you want to fish for votes in Appalachia, here's how.
Jun 30, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 40 • By MATT LABASH
As we agree on the musicality of Mudcat's delivery, Stowe says, "There's also something epic-like in his thinking--which is a quality any great song has, and all epics are born from something simple. He'll take the smallest detail and spin a huge story out of it. That's kind of his gift. He understands how a person will react on the gut level to just about any idea, probably because he's so reactive himself."
The last couple of months have seen two storylines emerge in the Democratic party. The first is that Barack Obama put away the nomination. The second is that Obama has a white-people problem in the general. More specifically, he has a problem with white rural voters, particularly those of the Appalachian belt, which straddles key states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. To put it in Mudcat-speak, Obama got beat there in the primaries like a tied-up billy goat.
Ruggedly independent, anti-elitist, and famously pugnacious, the denizens of Appalachia include many of the Scots-Irish variety lionized in Jim Webb's last book, Born Fighting, touched upon in his current book, A Time to Fight, and whose fight song is bound to be reprised in a future book, What Are You Looking At? I'll Fight You.
These voters went in droves to the unlikeliest Jacksonian populist imaginable, Hillary Clinton, whose bubba street cred entailed calling the hogs at Arkansas Razorbacks football games, claiming she once bagged a banded duck, and doing a shot of Crown Royal at a campaign stop (three tries to get it down, and it was Canadian whiskey to boot). If Obama was spanked by a poseur like her in these regions, journalistic handicappers say, imagine how bad he'll have it against a war hero with the Scots-Irish name "McCain."
These are the people Mudcat knows best. So when my editor commanded me to get down to the Roanoke Valley of southwest Virginia, where he lives, to find out what Mudcat's prescription was for Obama to stanch the bleeding, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to kill two birds. Mudcat had been imploring me for months to grab my fly rod and catch some trout with him.
When I contacted Mudcat, he was in a state of blood-spitting agitation at all the Poindexter reporters trafficking in stereotypes, depicting mountain people as racist mouth-breathers, while explaining Obama's "Appalachian problem" as if they were anthropologists dropping in on the lip-plated savages of America's last exotic tribe. He agreed to host me, insisting I stay at his house instead of a hotel. "Be sure to bring your gun and plenty of ammo," he wrote me in an email, playing to Poindexter type: