Senator Hillary Clinton said her victory Tuesday in the West Virginia primary was an “overwhelming vote of confidence.” And indeed, it was, as she walloped Senator Barack Obama by 41 percentage points, 67 to 26. Senator John Edwards, whose name was still on the ballot, received the remaining 7 percent.
Despite this being the largest setback for Obama, it will have minimal effect on his sizable lead in pledged delegates or popular vote total. Clinton’s victory could, however, temporarily stall the recent flow of super delegates to Obama. Early last week, Obama surpassed Clinton in super delegates by eight. It hasn’t been determined how many of the 28 pledged delegates Clinton will get from West Virginia.
“There are many who wanted to declare a nominee before the ballots were counted or even cast,” Clinton told a throng of supporters in Charleston, W.Va. “Some said our campaign was over after Iowa, but then we won New Hampshire. Then, we had big victories on Super Tuesday and in Ohio and Texas and Pennsylvania. And, of course, we came from behind to win in Indiana. So this race isn’t over yet. Neither of us has the total delegates it takes to win. And both Senator Obama and I believe that the delegates from Florida and Michigan should be seated.”
Clinton wasted little time announcing her need for funds to continue in what many believe is a futile battle for the nomination. After commending Obama and acknowledging they’d had a few “dust-ups” during the campaign, Clinton dropped her plea: “We are in the homestretch. There are only three weeks left in the final contests. And your support can make the difference between winning and losing. So I hope you’ll go to HillaryClinton.com…”
The depletion of funds has forced Clinton to loan the campaign money from her and her husband’s vast fortune, and that may occur again if she hopes to stay competitive in the remaining primaries. Noticeably absent at her victory rally was her husband and her daughter, who is reportedly in Puerto Rico rousing the troops for the primary there.
“I deeply admire Senator Obama, but I believe our case–a case West Virginia has helped to make–our case is stronger,” Clinton said, once again citing her opponent and clearly tamping down the flurry of accusations of the past. “Together, we have won millions and millions of votes. By the time tonight is over, probably 17 million, close to it. We’ve won them in states that we must be prepared and ready to win in November: Pennsylvania and Ohio, Arkansas and New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Michigan, Florida and now West Virginia. It is a fact that no Democrat has won the White House since 1916 without winning West Virginia.”
Obama offered no concession speech and was miles away in Missouri, which figures to be one of several swing states he’ll need in the general election. Obama’s focus is split between maintaining a semblance of combat with Clinton while gearing up for Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee. Moreover, there is the nagging problem of his inability to corral white blue-collar voters, and that disconnect was even more apparent in West Virginia.
But Obama feels that problem and the division in the ranks of the party will disappear when a Democratic nominee is selected. “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,” he said.
Other fissures in his campaign surfaced in West Virginia, including the nemesis of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In the exit polls, half of the voters believed Obama shared Wright’s controversial views, and more than half said Obama was not honest and trustworthy. And perhaps based on Obama’s “bitter-gate” flap, most said he did not share their values.
Clinton not only held her base among blue-collar voters in West Virginia, where 95 percent of the voters are white, she did very well among those who have not graduated from college and in households where the income is less than $50,000.
Also voters favorably viewed Clinton’s proposal to suspend the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gasoline tax for the summer, which Obama blasted as a political gimmick. Voters, by a margin of 74 to 19 percent, supported the gas tax suspension.
The exit polls revealed that Democrats should give more than a passing nod to those voters who may be unwilling to support the opposing candidate in the general election. Thirty-eight percent of Clinton’s voters said they would vote for Obama in the contest against McCain. Only fifty-four percent of Obama’s voters said they would vote for Clinton against McCain.
Next Tuesday’s elections in Kentucky may present more of the same winning factors for Clinton, but that presumed victory will be muted by Obama’s win in Oregon, if the polls are any indication.