First, cue the music:
We recorded this bluegrass session in Logan, a small town nestled deep in the rolling hills of southern West Virginia. The leaves are on the cusp of all-out autumn — oranges, reds, yellows, and some green — and a thick fog envelops all of it in the evening. Downtown, train tracks crisscross the one-way streets, and the Guyandotte River flows slowly under an old, rusted trestle and past rows of houses, an Exxon station, a bowling alley, a hair salon, a barber shop, and a couple of five and dime stores.
Bush won this state in 2000 and 2004. We're here because West Virginia — like many red states from the last election — seems to be up for grabs. No Democrat has won the White House without West Virginia since 1916. That's a factoid that Hillary Clinton liked to point out during the primaries, questioning whether Obama could pick up this state. (Clinton, it should be noted, enjoyed an overwhelming victory in that primary.) And until a week or so ago, it seemed like McCain was on track to win here this November, but recent polling data suggests a tighter-than-expected race.
David Greene was traveling with the Clinton campaign when she visited Logan last May, and he witnessed the energy and volume of her supporters here. That's why we've picked this town: to see how those former Clinton voters are feeling about the election. While here, we've met people like Paul Hardesty, a consultant who lives in town. He told us he voted for Clinton in the primary but will support Obama in two weeks. And we met Judy Baisden, who works the register at one of the two bowling alleys downtown. She's a lifelong Democrat and wonders if her grandfather is rolling in his grave now that she's considering McCain. Both Judy and Paul are featured in David's story from yesterday's All Things Considered.
Back to the music...
Last night we drove into the state park and visited with a large group of people who gather there for bluegrass and country music. Trucks and vans were parked in a mud and gravel-filled lot. They call the gathering Pickers in the Park and said they get together once a week to play music.
A light rain didn't stop a few people from standing outside under umbrellas, chatting around a picnic table. Crystal Brewster demonstrates her recent progress on the fiddle while Don Cavell shields her from the rain.
The building where they meet isn't fully constructed yet — pink insulation hangs from rough beams. Two women clogged on a stack of drywall sheets. Some of the strummers were perched on buckets.
After the jump, more music...
We did manage to talk a little politics. Back outside, Crystal Brewster told us that she doesn't like either candidate but will probably vote for Obama because of health care. She doesn't like McCain's proposal for a $5000 health care tax credit.
"[McCain's] so out of touch with the common man and what goes on in our lives," she said.
Brewster supported Hillary Clinton in the primary — and so did Tommy Lee, an Air Force veteran who stood beside her in the rain. Lee said his biggest concern is health care for veterans and he likes that McCain has military experience. Lee is a lifelong Democrat but said he didn't mind changing parties for the first time, admitting he isn't ready to vote for a black president.
"I'm prejudiced. I'll be honest," Tommy Lee told us bluntly.
On the other end of the picnic table was Don Cavell, who's considering a vote for Obama. He's a surveyor and works around Logan. He told us he's looking for the truth behind all the mudslinging. One issue he cares about specifically is the next president's energy policy — and how West Virginia fits into that.
"Clean coal technology that would drive southern West Virginia economy for the next 30 years is up in the air," he said. "Clean coal technology could help put energy in this country for the next 50, 60 years, during which time we'd have the opportunity to develop other types of technology — the green energy. But right now we need coal."
After that, we went back inside for more music. The cloggers clogged. The bassist plucked. The guitarists strummed. And we turned off our microphones for the night.