On Nov. 3, 1936, American voters registered their approval for President Franklin Roosevelt by re-electing him by an overwhelming margin. Roosevelt crushed his Republican opponent, Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, by more than 20 points in the popular vote. Roosevelt won every state on the map with two exceptions – Maine and Vermont.
Fast-forward 48 years and three days to Nov. 6, 1984. American voters registered their approval for President Ronald Reagan by re-electing him by an overwhelming margin. Reagan crushed his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Walter Mondale, by almost 20 points in the popular vote. Reagan came close to a 50-state sweep – Mondale barely made it over the finish line in his home state of Minnesota.
Back in 1936, Vermont was such a Republican bulwark that it withstood a national Democratic tsunami. In 2019, though, it’s inconceivable that a Republican presidential candidate would carry Vermont. It’s the home of socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, and President Trump’s job approval rating there is, well, abysmal – severe food poisoning would likely be more popular in the left-leaning precincts of Montpelier, Brattleboro and Burlington than Trump.
And in 1984, Reagan’s victory was so comprehensive that a red tide swept across the nation. With a couple of exceptions, though. Mondale carried Washington, Greene, Fayette and other counties surrounding Pittsburgh. It was only a matter of a couple of decades, though, before support for Democratic presidential candidates began to erode in this region. In 2008, Barack Obama lost Washington and other counties that were once Democratic strongholds. Last Tuesday, the transition was largely complete, when Republicans took majorities on the boards of commissioners in both Washington and Greene counties, and in the row offices in Washington.
Who could have imagined such a development 35 years ago?
There are plentiful reasons why this shift has occurred. Voters whose allegiances were forged in the heyday of FDR and Harry Truman have largely died off, union membership has declined, and cultural issues surrounding guns, sexuality, religion and ethnicity have come to the fore. The shift of Washington and Greene counties from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party follows the same trail West Virginia has traveled since the start of the 21st century.
The Democratic Party is different today than it once was. So is the Republican Party. Times change, the electorate changes, and parties change. The electoral map is always shifting – slowly, perhaps, but still shifting.
How long will Republicans enjoy pre-eminence in Washington County? Maybe a generation, maybe two. But beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.