John Kerry did better than Barack Obama in many Appalachian counties, and Bill and Hillary Clinton are more popular than him in the same region. Jonathan Chait chalks up the difference to racism. Association with a black president, he suggests, is weighing down Alison Lundergan Grimes’s Senate bid against Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.
I’m sure there’s some truth to these contentions, and Chait cites some anecdotal evidence to support them. But I think Chait is overestimating the role of racism. First, the Clintons are more popular than Obama nationally, which probably has something to do with their not being sitting presidents. Second, Appalachia has been moving away from the national Democratic party for twenty years. Obama lost support there between 2008 and 2012, for example, and I doubt that it’s because the news that he’s black traveled slow there.
We’ll probably get a clearer picture in 2016 if Clinton is the Democratic nominee–although I suppose that if the Democratic decline continues, some people will blame it on her association with a black incumbent.