The Washington Times - October 27, 2008, 03:56AM

PHILADELPHIA Toward the end of our trip through Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia, I was looking for a hotel in Fairmont, W.Va., on a Google map and noticed in tiny letters the word Barrackville.

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We got a good laugh out of that but realized it could be a fun stop for our project identifying why these states have moved from solid red into battlegrounds.

 

In this bucolic town we heard many of the same heartbreaking stories I’ve heard for 20 months on the campaign trail. The people in Barrackville were candid about their worries for the future and the hopes they’ve placed in Barack Obama.

 

I took a detailed look at the town’s voters for the battleground state project that ran in Sunday’s print edition.

 

Under a “Hard times in Barrackville hurting McCain” headline:

 

BARRACKVILLE, W.Va. | Even though the name has a different pronunciation, this might just become Obama Town.

Tucked in northern West Virginia’s coal country, this town of fewer than 1,300 people is filled with white, working-class voters who provided Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton a 41-point primary win and fueled speculation that a black presidential candidate couldn’t carry the state despite its historical Democratic tendencies.

Now, Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign signs dot the landscape, reflecting a shift that has taken the state from being a lock for Republican Sen. John McCain into a battleground in the final days of the campaign.

Patrick Powell is an unlikely Obama voter, and said he doesn’t even like the man. His wife is frustrated that Mrs. Clinton didn’t win, and his good friend blasts Mr. Obama as unpatriotic and refusing to recognize the American flag.

But all three of them say they won’t be voting for Mr. McCain.

 

Read the full piece here.

 

Joe (the photographer) Eddins captured several of our interviews with Barrackville residents, including Powell, in this riveting video:

 

 

 

 

The Barrackville voters were great examples of what we found everywhere - growing support for Obama as people figure out how to make ends meet.

 

I learned a lot from the trip and witnessed an especially marked shift toward Obama in North Carolina, a state I’ve been in many times this year.

 

Here’s the opener to the Sunday project:

 

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. | Her family moved south for more affordable living, but can barely pay for health care.

She does not want to see her husband off to another Iraq deployment.

He’s more excited about this election than any other, and never thought he’d see a black president in his lifetime.

These voters - hailing from North Carolina and Virginia, two rock-solid Republican “red states” in presidential races for decades, and West Virginia, which twice supported President Bush - are the kinds of voters who are bolstering Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama.

The Washington Times logged 1,300 miles through the mountains and valleys of these three states that can swing the outcome of the election, finding similar sentiments among this disparate group of voters in states that were thought to be safe for Mr. McCain a few months ago.

In all three states, in every demographic, including Republicans, voters say they are frustrated with the past eight years and view Mr. Obama as a symbol of hope in a time of war and economic hardship. If they show up at the polls and vote accordingly, they likely will deliver the White House for Mr. Obama on Election Day.

 

Read the full story here (click “print” to view it all on one page). Also, embedded in the story is Joe’s excellent photo gallery of images from our trip, which also can be found here.

 

One element that I didn’t get a chance to fully explore is the seeming evaporation of social issues as a winner for Republicans. When I covered the Webb-Allen race in Virginia just two years ago, I heard a lot more about guns, gay marriage and abortion than I have in months.

 

Fuzz LaRue, whom I met in West Virginia, summed it up nicely. LaRue, 55, said Republicans for the last few elections were smart to “prey on old-style stuff: guns, gays and religion.”

 

“It worked well, but they haven’t kept their word. Abortion is still legal,” the building-trades field representative said while volunteering for Obama in the Mountain State.

 

He said he tells skeptical voters inundated with anti-Obama mailers and ads from the National Rifle Association that no one will be eliminating the Second Amendment, and, “Besides, people can’t afford to buy ammunition anyway.”


He tells people they should be more concerned about the Patriot Act, which allows government officials to come in and “raid your house for weapons.”

 

I’ll be folding in with the Obama bubble tonight for the final stretch. Please let me know what you are seeing and hearing in the battlegrounds, and share your early voting stories.

 

Christina Bellantoni, national political reporter,
The Washington Times

 

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