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September 02, 2012

Voters in Appalachia Struggling to Identify With Presidential Candidates

by Kane Farabaugh

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Outside the growing city of Charlotte, North Carolina - host to the 2012 Democratic National Convention - a different section of America watches. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh looks at how people who live just a few hours west of the convention, in the region known as Appalachia, view the political conventions, and the state of the race for President.

Rural Roane County Tennessee sits in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

"It's really the heart of the bible belt," says Gary Johnston of Roane County Tea Party. "A lot of churches."

Though not far from the Democratic National Convention in the neighboring state of North Carolina, retired musician Gary Johnston says the gap in views between those who live here, and those assembled to nominate President Barack Obama for a second term, are wide.

"I believe this country is doomed if this President is elected for four more years," he adds.

Johnston is not happy with President Obama's health care legislation, which requires more Americans to purchase health insurance or face penalties. He is also upset with stimulus programs put in place during the Presidents term in office. He is so passionately opposed to President Obama, that he joined fellow conservative activists to buy a billboard saying "Obama or America - You can't have both."

"It means that you can either have America as you know it, or you can choose to keep this President and America will forever be changed," he says.

“I think some of these things are near treasonous quite frankly,” says teacher Gloria Johnson, a Democrat, passes the billboard on her way into the nearby city of Knoxville, where she faces an uphill battle in her race for a seat in the Republican controlled Tennessee legislature.
 
“It is tough to be the underdog sometimes,” says Johnson.
 
In a part of the country where voters have recently elected more Republicans into state office, Johnson is hoping to get a boost from younger Democrats in Knoxville, like students at the University of Tennessee. But she knows that in order to win in November, she needs to win over some Republican voters.
 
“Most of my family are Republicans, and I don’t think that they feel Mitt Romney is somebody who represents them," says Johnson. "A lot of Tennesseans don’t feel like Mitt Romney represents them.”
 
Gary Johnston says many people throughout lower income Appalachian communities in East Tennessee don’t identify with the Republican nominee for President because Mitt Romney is wealthy and doesn't know what its like to be unemployed.

“I’ll begrudgingly vote for him, though I think he’s a good man,” said Johnston.
 
Johnston says he is starting to warm up to both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan after watching television coverage of the Republican National Convention in Tampa which he said "humanized" the Republican ticket.
 
Gloria Johnson hopes the same happens for President Obama in Charlotte, where as a delegate from Tennessee, she plans to cast her vote for his nomination for a second term as President.