Why Shouldn’t Obama Win West Virginia?

By Lindsey Ellerson

May 12, 2008 11:25am

1.8 million Americans live in West Virginia, 665,234 of them are registered Democrats. It’s bordered by two states Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois won — Virginia and Maryland, and two states Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, won — Pennsylvania and Ohio.  (Its fifth border state, Kentucky, holds its primary on May 20.)

The Mountain State ranks 50th in median household income, $31,008; 50th in persons in the state 25 years or older with a bachelor’s degree or more, 15.3%; and 48th in per capita income, $23,995.

The state is 96% white and 3.5% African-American.

The idea of Democrats winning in West Virginia is perfectly sane. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans two to one — approximately 60% to 30%.

The state has two Democratic senators — Bob Byrd and Jay Rockefeller — and a Democratic governor, Joe Manchin. Two out of its three members of Congress are Democrats. The state went for Michael Dukakis in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, and George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

Sure, with few African-Americans or college-educated Democrats, this does not seem like an "Obama" state the way these primaries have been playing out.

But Obama needs to be able to convince voters like these that he cares about them, shares their values, and will change their lives.

John F. Kennedy shocked the political world in 1960 by winning here, proving that a Catholic could win in a Protestant, heavily evangelical state. Why is it so crazy that Obama could win in West Virginia? Or at least not lose it 2-to-1?

If these Democrats vote for Clinton, the presumptive loser, overwhelmingly — as is predicted — that indicates a real problem for Obama. I know the delegate math is close to dispositive for Clinton, but tomorrow’s butt-stomping seems to me like it should merit some serious hand-wringing among Democrats.

- jpt

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