Tired of blue state life, rural Oregon voters eye new border
Rural Voters Oregon (AFP)

As a hotly contested election highlights the United States's deep divisions, rural voters in liberal blue-state Oregon have approved a radical solution -- splitting off to join neighboring deep-red conservative Idaho.

Two conservative counties voted in favor of a non-binding measure to "Move Oregon's Borders" during Tuesday's polls, which also saw their northwestern US state predictably vote for Joe Biden in the race for president.

"In the United States, the differences between liberal and conservative... there's hatred there," said chief petitioner Mike McCarter, of the votes in Union and Jefferson counties.

"Populated urban areas are controlling the mass of everybody," the 73-year-old retired gun club manager told AFP.

Oregon -- whose politics are dominated by the liberal city of Portland -- has not voted Republican in a presidential contest since 1984, while landlocked Idaho to the east last chose a Democrat in 1964.

But the high desert and mountainous swathes of eastern Oregon -- where resource-intensive industries such as timber, ranching and mining prevail -- are far more conservative than the environment-minded coastal stretches of the state.

To succeed, the breakaway would need state and congressional approval -- considered highly unlikely. Tuesday's votes simply require county officials discuss the plan, and similar measures were rejected in two other Oregon counties.

But speaking to AFP as knife-edge presidential vote counts continued in swing states across the US, McCarthy said his movement's goals rings true for outnumbered rural conservatives across a nation in which most states apportion their electoral college votes -- to choose the president -- on an all-or-nothing basis.

"It's a definite clash between blue and red," he said. "Indiana and Illinois have got the same issue because Chicago controls all Illinois. In New York (state), New York City controls all New York."

"It is just these large population bases," he said. "There's a constant rub going back-and forth on life values between urban and rural."

'American politics'

Votes from metropolises such as Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Detroit are likely to prove crucial in races for Pennsylvania, Nevada and Michigan -- and thus for the presidency.

McCarter champions a long-term plan to add rural counties from Oregon, northern California and even Nevada to a "Greater Idaho" that would better represent the regions' conservative interests.

The plan has elements of a doomed 1940s bid to carve a new "Jefferson State" out of southern Oregon and northern California.

Steven Beda, associate history professor at University of Oregon, said while the latest proposal is unlikely to succeed, it "speaks to a larger political divide in places like Oregon that we should take seriously."

"It speaks to this longer history of many people in rural Oregon feeling that their identity, as well as the politics and economy, don't align with the big cities," he said.

The movement taps into a pragmatic desire for "more freedom, less legislation" in neighboring Idaho, which has lower taxes, lower cost of living and a more pro-gun leadership, according to McCarter.

"It is very emblematic of our rural divide here," Beda said. "That's the story of American politics."