West Virginia 1st District
The northern part of West Virginia is in many ways an extension of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. People here are Steelers and Pirates fans, they drink Iron City and Rolling Rock beer, they watch Pittsburgh television, and they live in the crevasses between hills cut by the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, on terrain that seems to forbid industrial and urban development. Yet this has been one of America’s prime industrial areas. Northern West Virginia is part of the same coal-and-steel economy that made Pittsburgh one of the nation’s largest cities and filled the narrow bottomlands along the rivers with steel and glass factories, foundries and coal yards. These industries have been declining, and they have become far less labor-intensive. Since 1980, the 12,000 mining jobs in this part of the state have dropped by more than two-thirds, with comparable fall-offs in manufacturing. The Weirton tin and steel mill, which employed 14,000 in the mid-1970s and was the subject of an employee buyout at one point, was down to fewer than 1,000 workers in 2008. Service jobs have replaced some of these losses. West Virginia’s largest employer now is Wal-Mart, and the government has brought in thousands more jobs, compliments of the powerful Senate appropriator Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat. One of the largest employers in Harrison County is the U.S. Department of Justice.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 1st Congressional District of West Virginia includes the northern third of the state and borders Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania. On the panhandle along the Ohio River is Victorian Wheeling, once one of the richest cities in the country with its steel and glass companies. There is Weirton, named for Ernest T. Weir, the anti-union Pittsburgh industrialist who transformed it from a farming community to a steel town in the early 1900s. South of Pittsburgh on the Monongahela River are Morgantown, site of West Virginia University and white-water rafting, as well as Fairmont and Clarksburg. To the west, the district includes three lonely mountain counties—Doddridge, Ritchie and Tyler—that were never heavily industrialized and have remained firmly Republican since the Civil War. Doddridge was the only one of West Virginia’s 55 counties to vote against Byrd for re-election in 2006. West of these, on the Ohio River, is the former oil-refining and shipping center of Parkersburg, which has become a plastics and manufacturing hub. From 2000 to 2007, the district lost 1% of its population; Morgantown gained 7%, while Wheeling and Parkersburg dropped 9% and 10%, respectively. For most of the 20th century, much of this territory was solidly Democratic. But dissatisfaction with the Clinton-Gore policies on coal mining and the environment helped Republican George W. Bush carry the district twice. And in 2008, GOP nominee John McCain won all of the 20 counties except for the two based in Morgantown and Fairmont. He carried the district 57%-42%.