West Virginia Update #1

It’s been more than 36 hours since my plane landed in West Virginia and I began volunteering with the Barr campaign’s ballot access drive.  Though coming to the end of my second day, it’s already been an interesting experience in a state traditionally dominated by Democrats and with a history that makes its residents wary of the capitalism of mine bosses and exploitive coal companies.

KoreaWVThe famous picture of the Korean peninsula at night is much like West Virginia and its borders with surrounding states.  Be it a river or an imaginary line, businesses in other states build right up to the border, but on the West Virginia side—nothing.

Before leaving, I was talking with two former professors and told them about my upcoming trip.  They noted how poorly West Virginia had developed in recent decades, citing the residents’ collective resistance to capitalism, a plethora of business regulations, and a death grip by trial lawyers looking to make West Virginia a venue for class action lawsuits.

Despite this ingrained character, the coal miner ethic has created a citizenry used to hard work and self-reliance.  Their ears perk when you talk to them about a candidate who wants to cut taxes and get the government out of their lives, but petitioning here hasn’t been easy.  The sparse population spread over the entire, large state means extra planning and plotting.  While the main focus has been the capital city of Charleston, efforts are now being launched to begin canvassing areas around the state like Beckley, Morgantown and Huntington.  Huntington and Morgantown are homes to Marshall University and West Virginia University, two of the top universities in the state.

Most of the efforts of volunteers in Charleston have been in this week’s Rib Fest, which is expected to see more than 30,000 people attend in the four days the event is hosted.  With a booth stocked with signs, Bob Barr and Libertarian stickers, Libertarian Party literature and petitions, we’ve brought in signature after signature.

Though maybe not the favored candidate, the idea of more choice has had broad appeal to most who have stopped by the booth.  Their friendly demeanor and extreme pessimism for the upcoming election makes them very open to putting an independent candidate on the ballot.  Most who express an opinion about the upcoming election have yet to mention John McCain—either good or bad.  Others refer to Obama with an air of resignation or outright contempt. 

It seems few are excited about their prospects.

West Virginia is certainly ripe for the picking this year for Libertarians.  If Bob gets on the ballot in West Virginia, the lack of enthusiasm for McCain in a state predicted to lean for him, combined with a general distrust of Obama, should give him solid numbers.

Thus far, the West Virginia government has been incredibly helpful in the ballot access drive, and the people very friendly.  One can only hope this good fortune continues through the drive.