RED ZONE VS. BLUE ZONE

It's opening night at the Banshee, a new Irish pub in what used to be a deserted warehouse in downtown Scranton. At the polished cherry-wood bar, local pols and union reps sing along to a folk band playing "When the Breakers Go Back Full Time," a wistful tune from Pennsylvania coal-mining days. These are Al Gore's people: Democrats going back half a century, grateful to Washington for pouring money into a downtown that once seemed as dead as the Lackawanna Railroad. The new mall, the baseball stadium, the national park devoted to ancient steam trains--all were built with generous government checks. Even the Banshee, opened by three local women, owes its life to a federal loan.

In a corner of the bar, Mayor Jimmy Connors, a sometime lounge singer and born storyteller, is trying to explain why Scranton is so different from the rural communities just up the road, where people always vote overwhelmingly Republican. "I campaigned up there when I ran for Congress, and the big issue was pig effluence!" Connors says, drawing laughs all round. "Now what do I know about pigs?" Local Democrats joke that the only things up north are "rocks, rattlesnakes and Republicans"; Connors's battles against crime and blight just didn't play there. "Seriously," he says, "how could I ever explain to these people what it is to have drug gangs coming in from the Bronx?"

About an hour and a half up Route 6, where the Susquehanna passes through the Endless Mountains, the little town of Towanda is digging out from a layer of fresh snow. This is solid Bush country. The three factories in town do just fine without a single union. In an area where 18,000 people carry NRA membership cards--and kids get the first day of deer season off from school--even the family-owned hardware store on Main Street has high-powered rifles for sale near the cashier.

Jack Fox, a retired high-school teacher and town elder, drives his red pickup down Main Street, waving to people he knows. Fox almost never goes to Scranton, and the only time he sees the Democrats down there is when they come on weekends to hunt and fish, making a playground of the vast open spaces. It's not that he and his neighbors don't like the visitors; it's just that Scrantonians can't appreciate small-town values. "They'll cut the fences," Fox says. "They'll run the snowmobiles over your property. They'll leave junk around. And we say, 'We don't want you here.' They don't understand the rural culture."

Judging from election-night returns, that divide is the same all over the country. The presidency essentially came down to a deadlock between urban Democrats and rural Republicans: two separate Americas, each suspicious of the other, each protecting its way of life. Even though he won the popular vote, Gore prevailed in just 676 counties, fewer than half of what Bill Clinton took four years earlier. Bush, meanwhile, carried a staggering 2,477 counties. Gore took virtually every major city, and most of their surrounding suburbs, while Bush claimed every small town on a straight line from Redding, Calif., to Springfield, Ill.

Projected onto an election map, Gore's blue counties are like small, densely populated outposts rising out of a vast plain of Republican red. Las Vegas is blue; the rest of Nevada is red. St. Louis and Kansas City are blue; Missouri is red. Because metropolitan areas are growing faster than outlying towns, Gore often found more votes in a blue dot than Bush did in a fistful of red. In Oregon, Gore's only huge win came in Portland; remarkably, he had enough voters in that one county to deliver the entire state. Many of Gore's blue zones represent heavily black districts or liberal college towns, while a lot of Bush's red zones can be traced to wealthy enclaves or sun-belt suburbs where tax cuts are king. But wide swaths of the country voted along the same lines as folks in Scranton and Towanda. Bringing those two nations together will be a Lincolnesque challenge for the new president.

Of course, the urban-rural clash goes all the way back to Hamilton and Jefferson. But it was rarely talked about during the Clinton years, when every issue was market-tested to appeal to voters in the middle--the soccer moms and mushy moderates. In fact, the chasm has widened. Most big cities saw a revival under Clinton-Gore, and they rewarded Democrats with a massive turnout. But the boom passed a lot of little towns by; they see the Clinton years as an assault on white, rural values, starting with issues like school prayer, abortion and guns. Using more money than ever before in a single campaign, both parties did all they could to exploit that divide. Democrats convinced heavily urban seniors that Bush would slash their Medicare checks; Republicans spread word that Gore was coming to personally confiscate hunting rifles. The result, some pols fear, is a cultural split that will only make it more difficult to find progress on pressing issues like health care. "The objective was to win the White House no matter how much violence you inflict on communities," says Oregon's Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber. "It leaves a lot of damage and a lot of scars that you have to go back and heal."

In few places was the campaign fought harder than "up and down the line," as the old mining families refer to Scranton and the surrounding area. Gore himself visited the city of 80,000 three times, including a stop during the final hours of the campaign. Like other fading cities, Scranton has teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and neglect. But the Feds have kept Scranton viable and mostly safe, pouring more than $50 million into downtown revitalization. Under Clinton's Cops Ahead program--which Bush has derided as an example of federal overreaching--the city also got money for 26 more police officers, including the ones on bikes who now patrol downtown after dark.

When he first ran in 1989, Mayor Connors bolted the Democratic Party to run as a Republican. This year, afraid that Bush would cut the cops program, among others, he switched back to support Gore. He's not the only one in town who thinks this election was critical to Scranton's survival. Sister Adrian Barrett tends to the poor in a neighborhood that features a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, a treatment center and a halfway house--all within two blocks. "I have to wait and see what the future will bring," she says, sighing. "I just don't think compassion and conservatism mix."

Up in Towanda--as in rural counties across the map--it was a far different campaign. In many ways, Towanda and neighboring towns maintain an easy tie to an earlier America. Don't bother bringing a mobile phone to Towanda; the cell towers aren't here yet. On weekends you'll still find fathers and sons catching catfish in the river. "If you need help here, say you have a flat tire, someone will stop and help you," Jack Fox says. "We're not afraid out here." But there is some anxiety. Police have noticed a recent surge in drugs, and over at the one-room station house, Officer Mitch Osman has been investigating his first case of Internet harassment, against a high-school teacher. Towandans see their values under attack, and they blame an overblown federal government that cares mostly about "minorities" in the city. "I stood outside the polls during this last election, and I have to tell you, rural America is pissed," says Doug McLinko, who owns Stuart's hamburger stand. "These people are tired of moral decay. They're tired of everything being wonderful on Wall Street and terrible on Main Street."

Gun control was the issue that crystalized resentment in towns like Towanda, where just about everyone owns a rifle, or several. Exit polling showed that a stunning 48 percent of those who voted nationwide had guns in their homes, and they voted in force for Bush. In Towanda, David Motko, the NRA's local organizer, handed out Bush signs as if they were Thanksgiving turkeys. "The more he insults us," he said of Gore, "the more credibility we have."

Increasingly shrill ad campaigns--financed with soft money from unions and groups like the NRA--have contributed mightily to the nation's "us versus them" mentality. "We've lost control of our own campaigns," says GOP pollster Bill McInturff. "They're being run by 10 different interest groups, and each of them have $10 million to spend." Calming emotions after the election falls to people like Don Sherwood, the Republican congressman who represents both Scranton and Towanda. Sherwood says it's like serving two districts with two distinctly different agendas. In the morning he may find himself listening to desperate dairy farmers; by nightfall he could be discussing federal funds for an abandoned downtown hotel. "You have to work a little harder," he says. "I've put a lot of miles on my pickup truck."

Bush faces a similar challenge--minus the truck. While some pols see the world in black and white, Bush will have to govern a country that is starkly blue and red. The rural America that voted for him is expecting its reward: a renewed emphasis on "family values" and less government intrusion. Urban America and its liberal suburbs, stung by the chaos in Florida, are looking for proof of Bush's compassionate side. Taking on searing issues like gun control or abortion will only harden the lines between those who live in blue zones and those who live in red. If Bush truly wants to be a "uniter," he'll have to live somewhere in between.