West Virginia 2nd District
Not all of West Virginia has been coal country, and not all of its hills are scarred with strip mining wounds or piled with tailings. It’s true that for miles you can see gentle hills and rugged mountains, stands of green trees and vistas stretching to far horizons. Yet over another hill you may find, amid scenery primeval and rural, sudden evidence of industrialization: a pulp mill or charcoal factory in a clearing scraped out of the forest; a small factory town, built close to a river in a cleft bordered with hills, its houses built in the same 1910s style as in the factory suburbs of Pittsburgh; the entrance to an underground coal mine or a mountaintop blasted open to allow surface mining. Large parts of this naturally beautiful state look as verdant and unchanged as they must have when George Washington was speculating in land here or when John Brown was launching his assault on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in 1859.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District of West Virginia is a central slice of the state, a belt of land from Berkeley Springs and Harper’s Ferry in the Washington exurbs all the way west to the Ohio River town of Point Pleasant, where the Kanawha River flows into the Ohio. The district includes the few fast-growing parts of West Virginia: the eastern panhandle counties, which are part of the Washington, D.C., metro area, and chemical-producing Putnam County, where Toyota built an engine plant. The major urban center is Charleston, where on the banks of the Kanawha rises West Virginia’s Capitol, built in 1932 and designed by Cass Gilbert with a dome higher than the U.S. Capitol and a chandelier with 10,000 pieces of cut glass. Charleston, with its two partisan newspapers, the Democratic The Charleston Gazette and the Republican Charleston Daily Mail, is the center of the state’s political culture. It also is a major industrial center, with coal in the hills all around and, downriver from the Capitol, huge petrochemical plants that convert coal tar into everyday products.
In the 1940s, the area produced all the nation’s Lucite, polyethylenes and nylon, as well as much of its artificial rubber and antifreeze. Today, the state boasts it is home to more polymer producers than any other place on the planet; the chemical industry makes products used in the manufacturing of cosmetics, detergents, shampoo, rubber, paints and coatings, fire retardants and agricultural products. Charleston is also West Virginia’s professional center, with a few downtown skyscrapers and some affluent residential districts. But like much of the state, Kanawha County has continued to lose population, about 9,000 people since the 2000 census. County school enrollment has dropped nearly in half since the 1950s. Politically, this is an ancestrally Democratic district now trending Republican. Berkeley County, which has grown 34% in population since 2000 to become the second-largest county in the state, votes like a Republican exurb. GOP presidential nominee John McCain in 2008 won the district 55%-44%.