West Virginia: Our Most Important State


West Virginia (7:30 p.m.) Barack Obama is lucky, damn lucky, that he convinced the punditocracy of his inevitability last week. If he had lost Indiana by a landslide and North Carolina by a little, West Virginia's primary would be getting more attention than it is. And even the little attention it's getting is focusing on Obama's crippling weakness with a certain segment of white voters. The Politico's roundup of the primary includes this wonderfully depressing facts for Obama:

– He's trailing by 49 points in Morgan County, the state's reliable swing county.
– His positive-negative numbers are 44-41, compared to Clinton's 70-21.
– One pollster, reading this, says "Obama may have to write off West Virginia come November."

The good news for Obama? The states he's losing aren't worth as much as the states he's winning. I discussed this with Eric Dondero on BlogTalkRadio last night. Dondero was crowing that the Democrats were losing Southern whites forever with their foolhardy Obama nomination, and I argued that they could afford to, because the electoral power of those voters is vanishing. West Virginia's a good example. From 1913 to 1963, the state had six congressmen and eight electoral votes. Now it has three congressman and five electoral votes. It's the 10th slowest-growing state: A political party would get far more out of locking down Hispanic votes in Nevada (5 electoral votes, set to become 6 electoral votes in 2012) than locking down poor whites in West Virginia or even Kentucky. Congressional re-districting is going to pulverize these states.

Look at it this way. Say the Democrats win the White House with the states Al Gore won in 2000 plus West Virginia. In 2000, they would have been worth 271 votes. In 2008, they will be worth 269 votes—enough to toss the election into the House of representatives. In 2012, they will be worth only 259 votes, as the rust belt and mid-Atlantic states lose clout to the West and sun belt. The smart thing for either party, then, is to win those latter states. The GOP would gladly give up its West Virginia surge if it could stop bleeding support in Colorado and (to a much lesser but more worrying extent) Texas.

So, having argued that West Virginia doesn't matter much… Clinton will beat Obama like a country drunk who's walked in on his wife and the milkman. It will be called within one tenth of one nanosecond of the polls closing. Obama could well lose all 55 counties: The only places I'd give him a chance are Cabell (home of Marshall University) and Monongalia (home of Morgantown and WVU). There's a little mystery about how many votes the still-on-the-ballot John Edwards will get, but not much mystery. I'd predict Clinton 67 percent, Obama 30 percent, with Clinton netting 8 delegates.

Mississippi-01 (8 p.m.)
—The Democrats have a good chance at winning this open U.S. House seat tonight, vacated by Rep. Roger Wicker (R) when he replaced Trent Lott in the Senate. They came within 400 votes of doing that in the first round of the primary, but Democrat Travis Childers fell below the 50 percent mark, and Republican Greg Davis rallied his troops for this runoff. It's gained national attention for two reasons. First, if the GOP loses, it would be its third straight special election loss after blowing Dennis Hastert's Illinois seat and the Baton Rouge-area seat of Richard Baker. Second, if the GOP wins, it will be the first time a candidate rode to victory by linking a Democrat to Barack Obama. A series of TV ads accused Childers of being endorsed by Obama (not technically true). The Democrats have outspent the GOP, their local machine is pretty good, and Childers only needs about 27 percent of the white vote to win, but I feel like Davis will hold on.

Inspired by the comments, one more video…

UPDATE 7:50: Clinton wins by 2 to 1, at the higher end of expectations. A week of "check out this rube who hates black people!" stories comes mercifully to an end.

Could Obama have kept it closer? He's losing groups he's won before, like under-30s (by 16 points), college graduates (by 11 points) and people making more than $100,000 (by 6 points). Mystifyingly, he does better with white Catholics than Protestants. But the numbers of people who think he ran a dirty campaign and isn't trustworthy blows away anything we've ever seen before. It's incredible that his campaign once hoped for a 12-point loss.

The number of whites who said race mattered in their vote was almost as high as the number in Mississippi. It's a bit too much for Obama to write off. So, here's a question: What would have happened had the DNC juggled the states and made West Virginia, not Iowa, the first contest? Would Barack Obama have managed to recreate his appeal in that state? Would he have hit a wall and come in third to Edwards and Clinton, maybe in that order? With black voters convinced that they had no shot at electing a black president, would they have stuck with Clinton and helped her beat Edwards? That's how I see it playing out.

One possible preview of the fall: John Kerry lost this state handily to George W. Bush. Yes, 50 percent of those voters were Democrats… but Bush won one in three Democrats. Compare that to Pennsylvania, where only 15 percent of Democrats voted for Bush. This is one state where those voters promising to drop out and vote McCain in November are going to stick to that.

UPDATE 8:15: No numbers from Mississippi, but apparently DeSoto County—Davis's strongest county—had to request extra ballots.

UPDATE 8:28: Wow. I expect these numbers to shift through the night, but the protest vote in WV is enormous. With barely anything in, 7 percent of the vote is going to neither Clinton nor Obama. In the GOP race, 11 percent is going to neither McCain, Huckabee or Paul. This won't matter delegate-wise for either party, though. The Democrats re-weight their votes, discounting anyone who doesn't hit the 15 percent threshhold.

UPDATE 8:43: Are the days of Obama underperforming exit polls over? CNN has gently massaged its poll, and now shows Clinton getting closer to 64 percent of the combined vote… down from about 67 percent earlier. I'd be shocked if an electorate so anecdotally Obamaphobic lied to pollsters about this.

UPDATE 8:48: I think the GOP will hold MS-01. Childers is underperforming, and he only won by 49-46 last time.

UPDATE 9:10: Every time the Clinton camp breathes heavily about "no Democrat winning the White House without West Virginia," keep in mind that Dukakis, Carter (in 1980), Humphrey and Stevenson all won the state and lost the presidency.

UPDATE 9:13: Maybe I was wrong about MS-01. About 1/3 of Davis's base county, DeSoto, is in. He won it by 65 points last time, and is winning it by 45 now. If that margin holds (admittedly a dubious proposition) it's 1000 votes or so in Childers' pocket. Also, those DeSoto turnout predictions seem fishy… so far it's casting about as many votes as last time.

UPDATE 9:17: Good news for Childers. Last time, Yalobusha County cast 1,161 votes and broke 48-46 for Davis. This time, it cast 2,239 votes and broke 59-41 for Childers.

If the Democrats pull this off, expect to see Paul Begala mocked for this quote:

[What Howard Dean] has spent [the DNC's money] on apparently, is just hiring a bunch of staff people to wander around Utah and Mississippi and pick their nose. That's not how you build a party. You win elections. That's how you build a party.

If the GOP loses, not so much.

UPDATE 11:34: Childers won by 8 points, after winning the first round of the election by only 3. To recap, here was one of Davis's ads against him.

Mixed message for superdelegates tonight. On the one hand, Obama's still hopeless in Appalachia. On the other, Republicans tied a Democratic candidate to him and failed… in Mississippi.