Just a few days ago, I said once again that I would try to resist engaging in media criticism on this blog. Today I'm going to officially declare one of the exceptions to that rule: when I see the need to correct the record on matters of political geography, a subject of special interest to me. In this case, I'm basically rehashing a point I made a couple weeks ago because, well, it appears no one's paying me any mind. So here goes again. The piece in question is the one leading Politico off and on for much of today drawing attention to congressional Democrats who are trying to put distance between themselves and President Obama. As I noted in critiquing a very similar October 19 story by the Wall Street Journal, this is going to be an obvious and legitimate angle to follow for the next year, as Democratic candidates seek to gauge Obama's standing in their states and districts. But these sorts of stories ought to be undertaken with a sense of perspective for...those states and districts. Politico's story, like the WSJ one, features as one of its most prominent examples of an Obama-distancer West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin:
“I’m supporting the state of West Virginia and the people of West Virginia,” the freshman Democrat said, when asked if he backed the president’s reelection bid. Informed that West Virginia won’t be on the ballot next year, Manchin chuckled and said: “You don’t know that. You know something I don’t know?”
There's just one problem with making Manchin a prime example of someone who is shifting away from Obama: Manchin was already as far from Obama as he could get! In his race to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd last year, he ran an ad in which he fired a gun at the cap-and-trade bill for carbon emissions supported by Obama. And no wonder: Manchin was running in a state that has never been anything but unfriendly turf for Obama -- a state that he lost to Hillary Clinton by 41 points in the 2008 primary after barely campaigning there.
For the umpteenth time, I recommend this map, which shows the parts of the country where Obama did worse in victory in 2008 than John Kerry did in defeat in 2004. It's a nearly contiguous swath of the country running through Appalachia and the upland South and across into Texas. Several of the distancers mentioned in the Politico piece represent districts that include some of the counties that were more anti-Obama than they were anti-Kerry, such as Georgia's John Barrow and Pennsylvania's Jason Altmire. And again, the resistance to Obama reflected by this map is from a time when he was at his peak popularity in 2008. That congressmen who hail from these necks of the wood are reluctant to be bear-hugging him today is not necessarily a sign only of his more recent struggles.