Run-Up to West Virginia

Run-Up to West Virginia

Despite predictions that Sen. Barack Obama will get trounced by Sen. Hillary Clinton in the West Virginia primary today, political strategists maintain that the Illinois senator’s nomination outlook is anything but bleak. He is now leading Clinton in declared superdelegates. Nevertheless, a loss in West Virginia does spark questions about Obama’s electability in the general election against John McCain, the presumptive
Republican nominee.

In West Virginia, registered Democrats have outnumbered registered Republicans two to one since 1976, a fact that would seem to favor the Democratic nominee had the state not swung right and voted overwhelmingly Republican in 2004.

Winning West Virginia is a long shot for Obama, assumes Robert DiClerico, a professor of political science at West Virginia University. For the first time this year, anecdotal evidence suggests race will hinder Obama in remaining Appalachian primaries.

Last week, Clinton received flack for comments she made suggesting that working-class whites won’t vote for Obama, but the Los Angeles Times reported that in West Virginia the stereotype may have some validity.

“The West Virginia electorate is different from the rest of the country. It  is older, whiter, poorer, and on average is less educated. Those demographics play towards Clinton,” says Neil Berch, an associate professor of political science also at West Virginia University.

Monday, was Obama’s first visit to the state in two months, and in his speech at the Charleston Civic Center he all but conceded the state to Clinton. Both candidates are pro-choice and support gun control legislation, which the majority of West Virginians oppose.

West Virginians seem to favor Clinton due to her attention to the economy, an issue that is pertinent to them. “The state is one of the most economically deprived states in the country,” says DiClerico. “When the rest of the country catches a cold, we get pneumonia.”

Comments Obama made in April about small-town Americans becoming “bitter” over job loss and turning to “guns and religion” along with comments made by the Illinois senator’s former pastor that were perceived as radical and unpatriotic have only fueled the flames of preconceived ideas held by some West Virginia voters.
“West Virginia is a state where people take their firearms very seriously,” says Berch. “That probably didn’t help him.”

West Virginians seem to overwhelmingly support the war in Iraq. The state has one of the highest veteran populations nationwide, a trait that may engender support for McCain, a U.S. Navy veteran and former prisoner of war.

On Monday, Obama sought an opportunity to tear at McCain’s stronghold with the veteran community by lashing out at McCain’s opposition to the New GI Bill for the 21st Century.

Voters in Nebraska also go to the polls to vote in the state’s nonbinding Republican primary in which 30 delegates are up for grabs.

Meanwhile, in Portland, Oregon, McCain encroached on Clinton and Obama territory by wooing Independents and Democrats with talk about regulating carbon emissions and legislation he co-sponsored supporting a “cap and trade” system, which would allow companies to buy and sell a permit to emit gases. Clinton and Obama also