Clinton wins by 2-1 margin

But outcome does little to alter status of Democratic race

Election 2008 -- West Virginia

May 14, 2008|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,Sun reporter

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hillary Clinton celebrated a blowout victory over Barack Obama in the Democratic primary in West Virginia last night, as enthusiastic supporters sought to help deflect mounting pressures for her to exit the race.

"I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign until everyone has had a chance to make their voices heard," Clinton said after early results showed her carrying the state by a 2-to-1 margin. She gave no hint that she was ready to withdraw from a contest that growing numbers of longtime allies say now appears out of reach.

"The bottom line is this: The White House is won in the swing states, and I am winning in the swing states," she said in remarks tailored to the remaining undeclared superdelegates who will determine the Democratic nominee.

Some supporters in West Virginia, whose voters went to the polls in record numbers yesterday, brushed aside calls for Clinton to quit and described implausible scenarios that they said could propel her into the lead.

But others were more pragmatic about the prospect of a general election match-up between Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain.

Jill Cochran, 54, a computer trainer from Dunbar, predicted that Clinton "would find a graceful way out" after next week's primaries in Kentucky and Oregon.

Cochran said she'd be "just fine" with that decision and would willingly back Obama in the fall, noting that policy differences between the candidates are slim.

"The Democrats have two very good candidates for president, while the Republicans don't have any," she said before Clinton spoke to a small crowd at the Charleston Civic Center last night.

The West Virginia outcome did little to change the fundamental status of the race. Obama holds a lead in pledged delegates, in superdelegates and in the popular vote, and he has won in more states. Yesterday, he picked up an additional four superdelegates. Even with Clinton receiving a solid majority of the 28 pledged delegates awarded in West Virginia, the delegate gap Obama has opened cannot be closed in the remaining five contests.

Obama did not campaign actively in West Virginia and has embarked on a schedule that focuses as much on swing states important to the general election as those with remaining primaries.

"We're going to spend a lot of time in Missouri," Obama said yesterday during a town hall meeting in that state. He will be in Michigan today and Florida next week, courting voters in two critical battleground states that were carried by Clinton but were stripped of convention delegates for holding primaries earlier than Democratic National Committee rules allow.

If West Virginia is to be a swing state in the fall, Obama needs to win converts such as Janet Reeves, 61, a banker from Charleston. Reeves said she is considering casting a write-in vote for Clinton in the fall because "this is who I believe in."

Her level of enthusiasm for Obama, she said, will depend on what Clinton says and does when getting out. "It's how she brings us together," Reeves said. "It's going to be her responsibility."

Clinton promised last night to "work my heart out for the nominee of the Democratic Party to make sure we have a Democratic president."

The Clinton campaign tried to make the most of its victory, distributing a memo earlier in the day noting that "no Democrat has won the White House without winning West Virginia since 1916."

"Any significant increase in voter turnout, coupled with a decisive Clinton victory, would send a strong message that Democrats remain excited and energized by Hillary's candidacy," the memo said.

Clinton's victory does help her cut into Obama's national popular vote advantage of roughly 700,000. Eclipsing Obama in the popular vote count through the final primaries is Clinton's last best argument to sway uncommitted superdelegates; those elected and party officials may chose whomever they want at the nominating convention.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1 in West Virginia, with organized labor in the mining and steel industries a powerful influence. For decades, the state supported Democratic candidates in presidential elections. But George W. Bush took the five electoral votes twice, with his support of the coal industry and its mining practices, and guns. More than seven in 10 of the state's voters come from households with guns, according to the Almanac of American Politics.

Bill Clinton carried the state twice, and remains popular, said Gov. Joe Manchin III, an uncommitted superdelegate. Obama will have to put in a lot of retail-politics work to win over Mountain State voters as a nominee, he said.

Voters here "want to see it for real; they don't just want to read about you. They want to touch you. They want to look at you," Manchin said in an interview.

Obama has "a good foundation, but he's far behind when it comes to pressing the flesh," Manchin said.

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