Politics & Government

Obama shows up in W. Va., but huge Clinton win expected

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks during a campaign rally in Logan, W. V.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks during a campaign rally in Logan, W. V. Elise Amendola / AP

LOGAN, W.Va. _Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama made their closing arguments in West Virginia Monday on the eve of the state's Democratic presidential primary, which Clinton is expected to win handily.

Stumping all day in the state, Clinton pressed her case on why she's best suited to be the party's nominee, despite trailing Obama in pledged delegates, states won, the popular vote and party superdelegate commitments, and while running a campaign that's millions of dollars in debt.

"The goal is to nominate someone who can beat John McCain in November," Clinton told a crowd in a packed middle-school gymnasium. "I wouldn't be in this race, I wouldn't be going up and down West Virginia ...I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't believe I could be the best president for West Virginia and America."

Obama, meanwhile, did a drive-by stop in the state, delivering a speech honoring veterans in Charleston that was aimed more toward the general election and a match against presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain than Tuesday's contest against Clinton.

"I'm honored that some of you will support me, and I understand that many more in West Virginia will probably support Senator Clinton," Obama said in prepared remarks to a small crowd in Charleston's convention center. "But when it's over, what will unify us as Democrats — what unifies as Americans — is an unyielding commitment to the men and women who've served this nation and an unshakable fidelity to the ideals for which they've risked their lives."

Obama's comments reflect the reality on the ground in the Mountaineer State — that he's poised to lose here, big time. A poll released Tuesday by Boston's Suffolk University showed Clinton with a commanding 36-point lead over Obama — 60 percent to 24 percent.

The poll had some ominous numbers for Obama: About four in 10 people said they viewed him unfavorably, while the same number viewed him favorably.

Four in 10 said they'd vote for the Democratic nominee in November's election if their choice isn't the candidate, with fully a quarter saying they'd support McCain.

Clinton campaign officials say that her expected victory here Tuesday will underscore her point to the Democratic Party establishment and superdelegates that she's the stronger candidate in certain crucial swing states and constituencies — especially working-class whites — that often prove critical to Democrats' chances in November.

But her argument may be moot. Even with a victory, she'll still remain far behind Obama in pledged delegates and popular votes, and few superdelegates seem to be rallying to her.

Obama didn't dwell on his impending West Virginia defeat. He jetted off to Lexington after his Charleston speech to campaign for next week's Kentucky presidential primary.

In between visits to upcoming primary states — Kentucky, Oregon and South Dakota — Obama has scheduled stops this week in general election battleground states, including Missouri and Michigan.

And Obama campaign officials announced that he'll soon go to Florida, where, like Michigan, he didn't officially campaign in January primaries because the states violated party rules by moving up their voting dates.

"Our schedule reflects the fact that we are still fighting for votes and delegates in the remaining contests, but also that we are going to places that are going to be competitive in the fall," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said. "John McCain has gone unchallenged for far too long, and we're going to make sure that voters in competitive states know the choice in this election between changing Washington and the third term of George Bush's failed policies that McCain is offering."

Clinton's insistence on staying in the race and her recent comments about her ability to appeal to white voters have caused much hand-wringing among some Democrats, who complain that she's hurting Obama's chances in November.

But that sentiment was hard to find here. Two-thirds of West Virginians in the Suffolk University poll said Clinton should stay in the race, and nearly three-quarters said she isn't hurting the Democratic Party by competing in the remaining primaries.

"I think she should do what she wants to do," said Phyllis Conrad, 50, an Obama supporter from Hurricane. "If she feels the need to stay, yes, she should stay."

Dwayne Williams, a 28-year-old Marshall University graduate student, said Clinton's presence has been good for the electorate.

"I'm hoping something can be resolved pretty soon, but I'm excited about what's going on in both campaigns," said Williams, another Obama supporter. "Both are bringing in more young people. There's a lot of talk about politics on campus, and that's a drastic change."

Ruth Tyler, a homecare worker from Charleston, said its Clinton's right to remain in the race, but that she lost her support when she started speaking about hard-working white voters.

"She was for the white working people," said Tyler, who's African-American. "I worked hard, raised 10 kids. She was talking like Mrs. Tyler wasn't worth anything."

(Margaret Talev contributed.)

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