Once a Clinton Stronghold, Appalachia Now Trump Country

Lisa Lerer, AP, May 3, 2016

When President Bill Clinton rolled into the small Appalachian town of Ashland, Kentucky, in 1996, cheering crowds lined the streets. Local boy-turned-country music star Billy Ray Cyrus performed a special version of his hit, “Achy Breaky Heart” before nearly 20,000 supporters at a riverfront re-election rally.

Back then, this was Clinton country. Today, it looks an awful lot more like Trump town.

Hillary Clinton was met in Ashland on Monday by just a handful of supporters and a lone heckler, who shouted: “Go home, Hillary!” Later on, hundreds of protesters stood in pouring rain, waved Donald Trump signs and chanted “Kill-ary” as Clinton toured a health center in Williamson, West Virginia.

The unwelcome reception marks a striking political shift for the Clintons, who’ve long staked their electoral fortunes on working class white voters. Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992 by wooing Southern swing voters in places such as Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee, and his wife swept all three states in her primary run in 2008 against then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Eight years later, Trump’s connection with those voters could pose a threat to Clinton in the coal mining communities of Appalachia she visited on Monday, but also in parts of the Rust Belt and upper Midwest hit hard by the decline of domestic manufacturing.

“I am well aware of the politics in West Virginia,” she told MSNBC in Charleston, W.Va on Tuesday. “It’s gotten increasingly challenging for Democrats to be successful.”

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