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Below the Beltway

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 21, 2001 1:37 PM

Now that we have a new president, I think we can all agree that this is a time for healing.

But first . . .

I've been staring at a map for several hours now: It breaks down the presidential vote county by county for the entire country,and it leads to a certain scientific observation about the nature of George W. Bush's victory. Some of you may find this to be an uncharitable observation, one that might even betray a subtle liberal-elite media bias. I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.

This was a victory for the hicks. A hicktory!

Here are the names of some counties that went heavily for Gore: New York County, N.Y.; Philadelphia County, Pa.; Los Angeles County, Calif.; Milwaukee County, Wis.; Honolulu County, Hawaii; St. Louis County, Mo.

Here are the names of some counties that went heavily for Bush: Alfalfa County, Okla.; Antelope County, Neb.; Tallapoosa County, Ala.; Ozark County, Mo.; Lumpkin County, Ga.; Pottawatomie County, Kan; Yoakum County, Tex.

On this map, counties that voted for Bush are red; those for Gore are blue. The map is basically a wash of red. This is because most of the Gore counties are geographically small but densely populated; the Bush counties are, to put it mildly, not. For example, Bush kicked Gore's butt in Elko County, Nev., which is (true fact) slightly larger than Denmark. Elko County has nearly three people per square mile. I phoned the Elko visitors bureau and learned that the main yearly local event is the "Man-Mule Race," where a man races a mule 25 miles from Elko to Lamoille. There is also a Festival of Trees.

Now I know I cannot dismiss all residents of rural areas as "hicks." A responsible journalist can't make an unfair generalization like that. He has to first find a pretext. So I decided to come up with a scientific yardstick of sophistication, some way I could empirically gauge the degree to which an area consists of persons like me, as opposed to persons like Goober Pyle, Gomer's less sophisticated brother. I decided on "bookstores per capita."

Feeding this term into an Internet search engine, I discovered that the one place in America with the most bookstores per capita is Madison, Wis. . . . Also, um, Tucson.

And Seattle. And Ann Arbor, Mich. And Charlottesville. And Ithaca, N.Y. And Portland, Ore. And Boulder, Colo. (Most of these are official chamber-of-commerce-type claims -- suggesting that, from an accuracy standpoint, chambers of commerce rank somewhere between time-share telephone solicitors and National Park Service crowd estimators.)

But my point is, Gore won every county that each of these bragging brie-and-brioche cities is in.

Whereas he did not win Fergus Falls, Minn., in Otter Tail County.

Am I getting through here?

Everywhere on this map that you see a little island of blue in a sea of red, you find a reason. All of cowpokey Nevada went for Bush except the one county that contains . . . yep, Las Vegas. All of Idaho went robustly for Bush except for one seahorse-shaped county in the south central part of the state. For some reason, Gore won Blaine County. Why?

I telephoned Blaine County Commissioner Len Harlig. I phrased the question as delicately as possible, knowing that local government leaders are often masters of diplomacy, respectful of their neighbors. Why did Blaine alone go for Gore?

"It is because we are well-educated," Harlig said. His neighbors in adjoining counties, he noted dryly, are largely involved in the profession of "resource extraction." Miners and farmers, he means.

Blaine County, it turns out, is home to Sun Valley, the posh resort. A large percentage of its residents, Harlig said, have moved there from places like San Francisco and Chicago. For its 20,000 inhabitants, Blaine County provides several dance and theatrical companies, four public libraries, and lots of bookstores, including one called Iconoclast Books. Hicks? I think not.

Now, I know that this column is not quote unquote nice. And yes, I admit it is theoretically possible to live in a rural area and be quite the sophisticate; I am certain that much of the outraged mail I will be receiving from sputtering bumpkins will be spelled and punctuated correctly. Still, it won't rattle me. One of the perils of being an objective journalist is that one must occasionally deliver unpleasant truths to those who will then unfairly accuse one of hostile stereotyping or intellectual dishonesty.

As this column was going to press, I found a news report about a bank robber who forgot to bring a bag for his loot. That meant he had to stuff all the cash into his pockets and socks, until it was bulging out. As he ran away, he left a mile-long trail of bills. Within an hour he was tracked and apprehended.

Turns out this gentleman was a local feller, a native son of Inman, S.C. ("The Fresh Peach Capital of the World").

Inman is in Spartanburg County.

Went for Bush, big time.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.

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