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Clinton’s huge West Virginia win changes little

The delegate math still favors Obama despite her better than 2-to-1 victory Tuesday.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 15, 2008

Sen. Hillary Clinton recognizes supporters after her win at her West Virginia Primary in Charleston.

Jeff Gentner/AP



Hillary Clinton scored a decisive primary victory in West Virginia Tuesday night, beating Barack Obama by a better than 2-to-1 margin. But the expected win - in a state whose demographics were almost perfectly aligned with Senator Clinton’s strengths - does little to change the dynamics of the nominating contest.

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Despite an upbeat victory speech, in which Clinton promised supporters that she is “more determined than ever to carry on this campaign until everyone has had a chance to make their voices heard,” the numbers overwhelmingly favor Senator Obama to be the Democratic Party’s nominee. Her margin of 67 percent of the votes to Obama’s 26 percent gave her 20 of West Virginia’s 28 delegates at stake.

"There just aren’t enough delegates left in the remaining primaries or among uncommitted superdelegates to really change things," says Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist from Emory University in Atlanta. Her victory in West Virginia, he adds, "doesn’t fundamentally change the race."

Still, Clinton’s victory by such a wide margin underscores one of the challenges that Obama, if he becomes the nominee, would have in a general election: how to win the support of white working-class voters.

It’s an issue that has dogged him in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. In West Virginia, where 95 percent of the population is white, 70 percent lack a college degree, and 55 percent report a family income of less than $50,000, Clinton’s edge among these voters was even clearer.

Exit polls showing that approximately one-third of Clinton supporters would vote for John McCain, the presumed GOP presidential nominee, over Obama in a general election are also a troubling sign for the Democrat.

“This puts an exclamation point on the message from earlier primaries, that Obama needs to expand his base of support to have a firm grasp on the electorate in the fall,” says John Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “None of this means that [Senator] McCain is suddenly the favorite. It’s a Democratic year. But the results in Indiana and West Virginia suggest that McCain at least has an opening.”

Others say that such exit polling may not be a reliable indicator of how voters will actually cast their ballots in November, when feelings are less heated than they are now. They note that despite the exit polls showing that neither Obama supporters nor Clinton supporters want to vote for their candidate’s opponent in a general election, both Democratic candidates still beat McCain in head-to-head matchups.

“That tells you something about the underlying mood of the electorate,” says Professor Abramowitz. “I don’t think the fact that Obama is not doing well with white working class voters or in states like West Virginia and Kentucky means he can’t win the election.”