West Virginia Is No Longer Clinton Country
Hillary Clinton is starting to have a rough time securing the remaining primary states, West Virginia included.
The Hill reports:
Polling shows Bernie Sanders with a sizable lead in there, meaning its Democratic primary on Tuesday is likely to extend a presidential nominating contest Clinton had hoped to wrap up by now.
Clinton has been hurt by her March promise to put coal miners out of work with her environmental policies. She apologized for her choice of words, but they still threaten to drag down her support across coal country.
In a general election match-up against presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump — who has seized on the coal comments — Clinton will be an underdog in West Virginia, which has voted for Republican presidential candidates since 2000.
But she hasn’t given up on West Virginia. She campaigned in the state this week but also offered a realistic assessment: “I know my chances are pretty difficult, to be honest,” she said at a Monday event in Williamson, W.Va.
“I’m here because I want you to know, whether people vote for me or not, whether they yell at me, or not, it’s not going to affect what I’m going to try to do to help, because I feel like that’s a moral obligation.”
West Virginia used to be Clinton country.
Hillary’s husband Bill easily won the state in both 1992 and 1996. When Hillary Clinton was on the ballot during the Democratic presidential primary in 2008, she bested then-Sen. Barack Obama by 41 percentage points in West Virginia, one of her best results of the campaign.
Nick Rahall, a former Democratic West Virginia congressman, said Bill Clinton was a hands-on politician, working the state hard during his campaigns and barnstorming it ahead of his wife’s 2008 run. Even though West Virginians voted in the final stages of the Democratic primary that year, with Obama close to tying up the nomination, that style of campaigning paid off for Clinton.
“Bill Clinton came into West Virginia — came into my district — worked it for two weeks solid for his wife,” Rahall said. “And it showed up on Election Day.”
Eight years later, though, Clinton’s support has seemly eroded. A Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey released Tuesday showed Clinton’s popularity underwater. She trails Sanders by 8 percentage points, though close to 20 percent of Democratic voters there are undecided.
“What a difference eight years makes,” said Robert Rupp, a political science professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College who has written about Democratic primaries there.
“She literally swept the state, and now she’s behind in the state. The popularity of the Clintons was amazing in 2008. I saw both of them work the state. And now it’s a difficulty, in terms of what’s happened.”
Clinton’s challenges in West Virginia are many.
First, the state’s demographics are tailor-made to benefit Sanders. West Virginia is rural and white and has some of the lowest incomes in the country, demographics that have reliably favored Sanders.
The primary is open to Democrats and residents with no party affiliation, rules that have helped Sanders run up the score in other states. According to PPP, Clinton holds a slim lead among Democrats, but Sanders is winning 56 percent of the independent vote.
And Clinton’s problems are likely to be exacerbated in the general election. West Virginia was one of Obama’s worst states in the 2012 election, and Clinton is likely to be tied strongly to Obama in voters’ eyes.
Obama may have accelerated the state’s shift rightward, but it started in 2000 with Al Gore, Rahall said.
“Back then, it was the three G’s: gays, God and guns, that did him in … and the environment, I might add,” he said.
“It’s continued ever since. George [W.] Bush used the social wedge issues very effectively, further solidifying the state, on the national level, in the Republican camp.”
Appalachian support for Democrats has further eroded as the coal industry in the region has faltered, a phenomenon many there have pinned on Obama’s environmental policies. And Clinton hasn’t exactly helped herself with the region’s miners, a problem that could extend beyond West Virginia and hurt Clinton in Pennsylvania and Ohio, too.
During a CNN event in March, Clinton said she would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” if she’s elected president. The line came during a discussion about her economic proposals for Appalachia, but her Republican and industry opponents seized on the remarks.
“I watched her three or four weeks ago when she was talking about the miners as if they were just numbers, and she was talking about how she wants the mines closed and she will never let them work again,” Trump said Tuesday night after he effectively locked up the GOP presidential nomination.
“Let me tell you, the miners in West Virginia and Pennsylvania — which was so great to me last week — and Ohio, and all over, they’re going to start to work again, believe me. They’re going to be proud again to be miners.”
Clinton tried to walk back that remark this week, holding a series of events in coal country and pledging to install an economic support package for residents hit hard by the declining coal prices.
But the political damage has been done: Crowd members heckled and booed Bill Clinton during a campaign stop in Logan, W.Va., on Sunday, and protesters greeted Clinton in Williamson on Monday. At that event, a Republican voter told her, “those people out there don’t see you as a friend.”
Clinton, though, seemed ready this week to fight it out in West Virginia, both in the primary and general elections.
“Voters will make up their minds in the primary, and I expect to be the Democratic nominee, and I’ll be back in West Virginia making the same case,” she said on Monday. “When we get into the general election, I will take my case to the people of West Virginia and America no matter who is the Republican nominee.”
But observers doubt a general election trip will happen. The Nov. 8 results in the state are already locked in.
“West Virginia is out in terms of the presidential election. It’s going to be solidly red,” Rupp said.
“She did come down, and she should get credit for coming down and campaigning down in an area that could be described as a hostile sea.”
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