There’s a lot to separate Durham and Yadkinville, North Carolina--a hundred miles of highway, a few hundred thousand person population difference, and, oh yeah, a 180 degree shift in politics.
Durham County, where Duke is located, was the most democratic county in state in the 2004 presidential election, casting more than two-thirds of its ballots for Sen. John Kerry even as the Democrat suffered an overwhelming 13% loss in the state as a whole.
And then there was Yadkin. This rural county in western North Carolina went for Bush by a margin of 4-to-1 in ’04, logging a larger percentage of its votes for the Republican than any other place in NC.
So it should come as no surprise that this Friday when photographer Zachary Tracer and I visited Yadkin County, we expected to find a place very different than the county where our school is--one where the presence of the Republican party was immediate, obvious and overwhelming.
Instead, things in Yadkinville, the county seat, looked shockingly normal. Our drive into the town took us past a textile mill, a Taco Bell, and a couple of Conoco gas stations. There were more pumpkin decorations than political signs in people’s windows, and the only substantial difference I could find from Durham was the fact that our alternative rock radio station had somehow morphed into one that played exclusively country ballads.
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And then, as I talked to residents of Yadkin County--in line to vote, sitting outside barber shops, in stores and the newspaper office--it clicked.
This is not a place where conservative politics take center-stage simply because they’ve never had to. Yadkin County is a place settled in its conservatism, where voting Republican is unspoken and expected. In the office of the Yadkin Ripple, a secretary named Kara Ball told me that she was voting for McCain for one reason. “He’s the Republican,” she said. On the wall behind her was a yellowed copy of the paper from November 1972. NIXON IN A LANDSLIDE, the headline announced. Below it, a chart showed the breakdown of votes in the county--6871 for Nixon, 1591 for McGovern.
And if my experience in Yadkin is any indication, don’t expect anything different this time around. In the nearly four decades that have passed since Nixon’s election, a lot has changed in the county and the country, but Yadkin’s politics haven’t budged. Come Tuesday, their votes will add a few more notches to McCain’s tally.
There won’t be much fanfare about it though. That’s simply not Yadkin’s style.