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After election report gives Sullivan County 15 minutes of fame as the reddest of red counties

Staff Report • Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Sullivan County got it's 15 minutes of fame in a way Tuesday on an NRP news segment titled "Lesson from Tenn., A Southern GOP Stronghold."

The reaction depends on whose point of view you're looking at.

From the conservative perspective it was a proud moment recognizing a solid red state after a not-so-red presidential election.

During the broadcast Sullivan County GOP Chairman declared the election a great day for Sullivan County and the State of Tennessee.

State Rep., who unseated incumbent Nathan Vaughan, got in his two cents worth declaring Sullivan County the county "one of the most Republican in the nation."

But - and there's always a but - University of Tennessee political scientist Anthony Nownes characterized the region staying true to its Republican heritage in the presidential election by saying, "Appalachia is overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly rural and of a lower socioeconomic status. It's an area of the country that's overwhelmingly religious, and all of those factors played into Obama's weakness here."

That's not going down so well with some of the region's boosters who think the "lower socioeconomic" label isn't an accurate assessment.

And Nownes says it would be naive to think race was not a factor for some Appalachian voters - though he says its importance varied throughout the region. Democrats say it was an issue in Sullivan County, where Republicans mailed out a controversial ad attacking Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the legislator Shipley was running against, Nate Vaughn, who is black.

In the ad, photos of the three Democrats' heads were pasted on the bodies of large blackbirds with a caption calling them "a liberal big government flock." Republicans deny the ad was racist, but Vaughn thinks it played a big role in the election.

"I think a lot of fear was brought up about having Barack Obama as president - because he was black, because of what people actually believed he was about," Vaughn said. "I think this was created by people like the Tennessee Republican Party that were just breeding this fear."

Vaughn says neither the Democratic Party nor the Obama campaign tried to counter those ads, and he doubts that it would have done much good if they had, given Obama's low popularity in the area. Indeed, the president-elect hardly campaigned in Appalachian Tennessee at all. Instead, he concentrated on more competitive Southern states, such as Virginia and North Carolina, where he eventually won.

CLICK HERE for full text and audio version of the report.

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