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Column: City vs. rural divide persists

By Mike Myer

The Intelligencer of Wheeling

WHEELING, W.Va. — Four years ago, a column I wrote appeared under the headline, “Election Was Cities Vs. Rural U.S.” So it was again this year, but with a twist.

In 2012, I noted that Mitt Romney would have won the presidential election if he had won just four cities: Cleveland, Philadelphia, Miami and Chicago. The explanation was that Romney’s loss of those cities gave their states’ Electoral College votes to Barack Obama, who prevailed in that decisive count by 322-206. Had just those four cities and states gone for Romney, the Electoral College count would have been in his favor, 293-245.

What a difference four years makes. Democrat Hillary Clinton had been favored to win the Nov. 8 presidential election. Republican Donald Trump prevailed, with 306 Electoral College votes to Clinton’s 232.

But Clinton won the popular vote, with nearly 62 million to Trump’s nearly 61 million. That has led to new calls that the Electoral College system be scrapped.

Part of the reason the Founders established it was to guard the nation against what has happened repeatedly during recent years, however. They feared a few heavily populated areas would be able to control the nation. The mechanism of electors was set up to give smaller states some protection.

As I pointed out four years ago, a sort of tyranny of the cities had begun to dominate presidential politics. In essence, all one had to do to move into the White House was win the 50 largest urban areas in the country.

In 2012, the four cities listed above would have given Romney the win, had he carried them.

Trump didn’t carry them, either. Clinton was strong in basically every major city. So how’d Trump pull it off?

It was quite simple, really. Trump managed to mobilize enough rural and small-town voters to overcome the big-city vote in many states.

In each and every one of the so-called “swing states” — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa and Wisconsin — Clinton won in the big cities. Yet the states went for Trump, sometimes by substantial margins, because of that rural and small-town vote.

Four years ago, I wrote that President Barack Obama often talked down to those of us outside the cities. I reminded readers of the slam against people who “cling to their guns or religion.” Obama got away with it because he “knew he didn’t need us,” I explained.

It turns out he may not have needed us, but his party does.

In 2012, I warned that the most dangerous divide in the nation had less to do with race than with where people live. That divide continues.

For now, though, we’re on top.


Republicans once vowed to erect a “big tent” to attract voters of all kinds. They need to be careful. Democrats are signaling what they might call a bigger-tent strategy.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has been named Senate minority leader by fellow Democrats. He replaces a fellow, outgoing Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who may hold the record for most people alienated by a single politician.

Schumer is speaking softly, however, and carrying a multi-branched stick.  This week, he named nine members of his “leadership team.” It was no surprise that Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, was given a spot.

But how’s this for strange bedfellows? Also on the team are Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin has been appointed vice-chairman of the Senate Democrats’ Policy and Communications Committee.

Outside our state, Manchin is viewed as such a maverick that there were rumors he was planning to switch parties and become a Republican. No way, he reacted.

Here in the Mountain State, voters have no trouble understanding Manchin. He’s a West Virginia Democrat. The fact there’s so much difference between how our Democrats see things and positions adopted by the party’s national leadership is one indication of why Trump won our state.

Mike Myer can be reached at [email protected].

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