Clinton Wins Big in West Virginia Primary, Solidly Defeating Sen. Barack Obama

Stinging defeat not likely to deter Obama's march toward Democratic nomination.


May 14, 2008 — -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., overwhelmingly won the Democratic primary in West Virginia, solidly defeating Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., by one of her widest margins of victory of the primary contests.

While the thorough drubbing in West Virginia will undoubtedly sting Obama, Clinton continues to trail him in pledged delegates and superdelegates, and her campaign continues to bleed money.

"The dynamics of the race have become such that her win today doesn't necessarily change the playing field that much, given the few number of delegates at stake," Democratic strategist Paul Brathwaite said. West Virginia had 28 delegates up for grabs.

With 98 percent of the vote counted, Clinton trounced Obama with 67 percent of the vote to Obama's 26 percent. She was awarded 20 of the state's delegates, while Obama won eight. Those numbers, however, did little to cut into Obama's delegate lead.

Despite the pessimism about her prospects expressed by some, Clinton said after her victory that she has no intention of dropping out of the race.

"There are some wanted to cut this rate short," she said in Charleston, W.Va. "They say give up. It's too hard. The mountain is too high. But you in West Virginia know something about rough roads. ... My friends, the faith of the Mountain State has moved me. I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign until everyone has had a chance to make their vote heard."

While Clinton went to West Virginia today, Obama traveled to the traditional general election state of Missouri to demonstrate he is already focused on the general election.

"This is a state where we will compete to win when I am the Democratic nominee for president," Obama told supporters tonight at Cape Girareau Town Hall in Missouri.

"There is a lot of talk these days about how the Democratic Party is divided. But I'm not worried, because I know that we'll be able to come together quickly behind a common purpose. There's too much that unites us as Democrats. There's too much at stake for our country," Obama said.

However, Clinton's victory in West Virginia may fuel her argument that Obama isn't a viable general election candidate. The Mountain State has many of the white, Southern, rural, older, low-income and low-education voters who have flocked to Clinton's presidential candidacy in previous contests.

In a troubling sign for Obama, barely half of lower-income, low-education voters in the state said they'd vote for him in November if he's the party's nominee, according to preliminary exit poll results..

Perhaps suggesting an economic voting divide, Clinton voters were more likely than Obama supporters to say the economy was hurting their families a lot.

And, racially motivated voting appears to be running higher than usual, preliminary exit poll results suggest, with two in 10 white voters saying the race of the candidate was a factor in their vote. About 66 percent of those voters said they wouldn't support Obama in the general election against presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The demographics in West Virginia heavily favored Clinton, who has rebranded herself during the course of the campaign as a tireless champion of blue collar workers.

West Virginia is 95 percent white, has the highest percentage in the nation of people without a college education, and the second-highest percentage of older Americans, after Florida.

Adding to her electability argument, Clinton repeatedly reminded voters over the last week that no Democrat has won the White House since 1916 without winning West Virginia, a state that voted for former President Clinton in 1992 and 1996 but voted for President Bush in 2000 and 2004.

The Clintons made 30 campaign stops in West Virginia, while Obama made three, and the many appearances the former president made may have paid off. A large majority of Clinton voters said Bill Clinton's campaigning was important to their vote, preliminary exit poll results suggest.

Despite her victory today, Clinton continues to lag behind Obama in delegates, momentum, and money.

Her campaign debt is estimated to exceed $20 million and could go deeper as she campaigns through the final primaries June 3.

Though the last Democratic contest is not until June 3, the Illinois senator has increasingly begun to focus his campaign on the general election.

This week he announced plans to visit important swing states Michigan and Florida -- which were stripped of their delegates to the party's convention this August in Denver after they broke party rules by moving their primaries ahead on the calendar.

While Clinton is facing increased pressure to drop out of the race, her senior adviser Terry McAuliffe told ABC News he is "100 percent" certain she will stay in the race until the last primaries in Montana and South Dakota on June 3.

But Obama said this week the nomination fight may be over on May 20, if his expected win in Oregon that day gives him a majority of pledged delegates.

Despite the bitter campaign and rumors of animosity between the candidates, the rivals were cordial when they were both on the Senate floor this morning on Capitol Hill.

Obama walked over to Clinton to shake her hand and pat her on the arm. Later, Clinton traveled to Charleston, W.Va., where she toured a farmer's market and shook hands with voters.

Despite Obama's insurmountable delegate lead, Clinton's continued presence in the race doesn't bother a majority of Democrats.

While most Democrats favor Obama for the nomination, 64 percent of likely Democratic voters believe she should stay on and fight, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday.

"As long as she's not dividing the party deeply by going after Sen. Obama and questioning his capacity to be president, attacking him on issues, running negative ads like the '3 a.m.' ad, then I think she's fine and not damaging herself within the Democratic Party and certainly not damaging herself with voters," Devine said.

By staying in the race and continuing to win states, Devine argued, Clinton may enhance her image and close the gap in the popular vote.

"This process has been good for her, even though she is ultimately going to lose it," he said.

"That identity of fighting for people and the perception that she doesn't give up will serve her well in politics, particularly if there's some tough fights ahead like passing national health insurance, which she may take a leadership role on," Devine said.

However, the longer Clinton stays in the race, the deeper her campaign goes into the red.

She is meeting with a group of 40 fundraisers Wednesday at a hotel in Washington, DC. One Clinton fundraiser told ABC News' Kate Snow the meeting was set up last week to enable fundraisers to regroup and ask Clinton questions after the West Virginia primary.

Spokesman Howard Wolfson told ABC News the meeting is a regular quarterly check-in session, not an emergency session.

"The meeting is, as it always is, to give them a sense of where the race is, to thank them for their past support, and to urge their continued generosity," Wolfson told Snow.

Her campaign debt is estimated to exceed $20 million and could go deeper as she campaigns through the final primaries.

And as long as Clinton continues to stay on and win on, she can raise questions about Obama's electability in the general election among demographic groups who continue to support her.

ABC News' Gary Langer, Z. Byron Wolf, Ann Compton, Teddy Davis, and Eloise Harper contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events