Opinion: Obama More Popular in Egypt Than Little Egypt - NBC Chicago
Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Obama More Popular in Egypt Than Little Egypt



    You’ve probably never heard of Hord, Illinois. I hadn’t either, until the afternoon I was driving north on State Highway 45 and got caught in rain as dense as the spray cycle at the car wash. I had to pull over at a filling station to wait out the storm. I killed the time by reading brochures the owner had set out. Half condemned gun control -- one had a drawing of Hitler, Stalin and Mao giving a fascist salute, with the legend, “All in favor of gun control, raise your hands” -- and the other half condemned anyone who did not embrace evangelical Protestantism.

    Hord is in Clay County, which cast 71 percent of its votes for Mitt Romney last week. Even though Illinois is home of the president, Obama won only 23 of our 102 counties -- 23 percent, one of the lowest proportions of any blue state. As the Southern Illinoisan noted, "President Barack Obama may have won re-election Tuesday night, but it wasn’t thanks to Southern Illinois. Of the 15 counties The Southern Illinoisan collected vote totals for, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won 13.”

    But it’s the cluster of counties in southeastern Illinois, surrounding Effingham, that really disdain Obama. They’ve never voted for Obama for anything. In 2004, Obama ran for the U.S. Senate against Alan Keyes -- a carpetbagger whose campaign’s only purpose was to sell books. The main planks of Keyes’s platform were opposition to abortion, which he called “genocide,” and homosexuality -- he scorned gays and lesbians as “selfish hedonists.” Statewide, Keyes received 27 percent of the vote and won 10 counties. Eight were in southeastern Illinois -- Wayne, Edwards, Wabash, Clay, Richland, Effingham, Jasper and Clark. It’s the most conservative corner of Illinois. Effingham is home to the World’s Largest Cross -- 198 feet tall.

    Obama has always been a stranger in a strange land to Southern Illinois. He first visited as a state senator, at the insistence of an aide who thought he should get to know the entire state. As Obama recalled in The Audacity of Hope, the aide had to remind him not to ask for Dijon mustard on his hamburger, and the senator almost went into culture shock when he saw a sign advertising “Good Deals on Guns and Swords.” (During that trip, Obama also posed for the famous photo next to the Superman statue in Metropolis. Metropolis is in Massac County, which also voted for Alan Keyes and Mitt Romney.)

    In its voting patterns, Southern Illinois is no different from Kentucky or Missouri, two states Obama lost decisively. Obama is one of the most cosmopolitan candidates we’ve ever seen. Rural, religious voters aren’t in the market for a hip, black, liberal president -- even if he is a favorite son.


    This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.