Final Election Blog from '08: Report from a Small Town

I never thought my little town of Russell, NY would go for Obama.

Some demographic information about my town, from the 2000 census:

* Population of 1,801 in 650 households.

* 99% white.

* Education of the population that is 25 or older, with national averages in parentheses: 76.2% (80.4%) have a high school degree or greater and 10.6% (24.4%) have graduated from college.

* Occupations, with national averages in parentheses: 25.2% (33.6%) are professionals, 23.3% (14.9%) have service occupations, 17.5% (26.7%) work in sales or an office, 2.4% (0.7%) are farmers, 13.5% (9.4%) work in construction or mining, and 19.1% (14.6%) work in factories or transportation.

* 29.7% of us work for the government (National average: 14.6%).

* 15.7% of the town's families are in poverty (National average: 9.2%).

* Median family income is $36,116 (National median: $41,994). Per capital income is $13,530 (National per capita income $21,587).

This paints a clear statistical picture of my town. We are poorer and more poorly educated than average, and we tend to work with our bodies or with big machines more than we work with paper, pencils, and computers.

Here are pictures of the heart of the town to paint a visual picture. Our business district (yes, that is all there is):

We also have a pretty decent town hall, a gift to the town in the early 1900's by a former resident who left the area and made good. The Russell Opera House takes up all of the second story.

The rest of downtown is now owned by the fire department. Two old storefronts have been demolished, and the one in this picture appears headed for the same fate. A hotel and bar that was a legendary gathering spot burned down before we moved to the town 30 years ago.

Politically, the party in power in Russell is The Party of the Native Born, who predominately register as Republicans. People in this town do not vote by party line, however, and Democratic county, state, and federal candidates frequently win a majority of Russell's vote. We suspected that Obama would not take the town, There was a real reluctance to put up Obama lawn signs until late in the campaign. One person who lives right downtown put up a McCain sign, even though he usually supports Democrats. He told Robert that Obama was "too different". In a town that is 99% white, it's not difficult to decode that statement.

The final vote, however, proved me wrong. Nationally, Obama won with 52.3% of the vote. In Russell, he won 52.5% of approximately 700 votes. I don't have the specific number of votes cast, because the Board of Elections no longer posts election data for county-wide elections by township.

I don't think this makes Russell a bellwether, and I don't expect to see national media vans camped out by the Town Hall waiting for our election results in 2012. I am fascinated and gratified that we did echo the rest of the nation. We are part of the national shift.


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