Clinton takes West Virginia primary

Despite win, Obama may be just a few weeks from clinching the party's nomination before the end of the primary season on June 3.

clinton shouts 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
clinton shouts 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hillary Rodham Clinton coasted to an overwhelming but largely symbolic victory in working-class West Virginia on Tuesday, handing Barack Obama one of his worst defeats of the campaign yet scarcely slowing his march toward the Democratic presidential nomination. But with an almost insurmountable lead in the delegate tally, Obama may be just a few weeks from clinching the party's nomination before the end of the primary season on June 3 even if he loses most of the remaining contests in four states and Puerto Rico. Clinton showed no signs of being ready to give up her bid to become the first female US president. She coupled praise for Obama with a pledge to persevere in a campaign in which she has become the decided underdog. "I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign until everyone has had a chance to make their voices heard," Clinton told supporters as the scope of her triumph became clearer. "This race isn't over yet. Neither of us has the total delegates it takes to win." Obama conceded defeat in advance but was looking ahead to the Oregon primary next week and to the general election campaign against Republican John McCain. But the West Virginia defeat underscored his weakness among blue collar voters who will be pivotal in the fall. Obama was already trying to woo those voters as he campaigned Tuesday in Missouri, a battleground between the two parties in recent elections. He held an economic town hall event at a clothing manufacturing plant in Cape Girardeau County, which he lost to Clinton in the Feb. 5 primary, even though he narrowly carried the state. Obama sees the economy as a crucial issue, and one in which he hopes to tie McCain to the Bush administration's unpopularity. "John McCain has decided that he is running for George Bush's third term in office," Obama told a gathering of garment workers. "He has opted for the same approach that has failed the American people," he said, criticizing the administration on economics and the Iraq war in particular. "We need a new direction in Washington," added the man seeking to become the first black presidential nominee of a major party. With votes from 58 percent of West Virginia's precincts counted, Clinton was winning 65 percent of the vote, to 28 percent for Obama. Clinton won at least 16 of the 28 delegates at stake in West Virginia, to seven for Obama, with 5 more to be allocated. That left Obama with 1,875.5 delegates to 1,712 for Clinton. It takes 2,026 to clinch the nomination at the party convention in Denver this summer, a total raised by one to reflect the election of Democrat Travis Childers to Congress in a special election in Mississippi during the evening. Clinton's triumph approached the 70 percent of the vote she gained in Arkansas, her best state to date. It came courtesy of an overwhelmingly white electorate comprised of the kinds of voters who have favored her throughout the primaries. Nearly a quarter were 60 or older, and a similar number had no education beyond high school. More than half were in families with incomes of $50,000 (€32,300) or less, and the former first lady was winning a whopping 69 percent of their votes. Clinton's aides contended that her strength with working-class voters - already demonstrated in primaries in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana - makes her the more electable candidate in the fall. Clinton used her victory rally to speak directly to undecided superdelegates, the party leaders and elected officials who can vote however they like at the party's nominating convention. Neither candidate can secure the nomination just by the delegates won in state contests so superdelegate support is essential to settle the race. "Choose who you believe will make the strongest candidate in the fall," she said. "The White House is won in the swing states," she said, "and I am winning the swing states." Clinton also led in a nonbinding primary in Nebraska, gaining 49 percent to 47 percent for Obama with votes counted in 35 percent of the precincts. Obama won the state's caucuses earlier in the year, and with them, a majority of its delegates. Clinton arranged to meet some superdelegates Wednesday to try to slow their flow to Obama. About 250 of the nearly 800 superdelegates remain publicly uncommitted or have yet to be named. But the New York senator was struggling to overcome an emerging Democratic consensus that Obama effectively wrapped up the nomination last week with a commanding victory in the North Carolina primary and a narrow loss in Indiana. He picked up another four superdelegates on Tuesday, including Ray Nagin, the mayor of Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, and Roy Romer, a former Democratic Party chairman. "This race, I believe, is over," Romer told reporters on a conference call. He said only Clinton can decide when to withdraw, but he added: "There is a time we need to end it and direct ourselves to the general election. I think that time is now." During the past week, close to 30 superdelegates have swung behind Obama. Three of his new supporters formerly backed Clinton, who surrendered her lead in superdelegates late last week for the first time since the campaign began. Clinton's best chance to slow Obama is to buy herself more time by moving back the finish line. She will get that chance May 31 when the Democratic National Committee's rules panel considers proposals to seat delegates that had been stripped from Florida and Michigan after they violated party rules by holding their primaries too early. If the delegates are reinstated that would increase the number of delegates needed to get the nomination to 2,209. Clinton would also cut into Obama's delegate lead since she won the primaries in both states, though Obama was not on the ballot in Michigan. But even under the best scenario for Clinton, Obama would still be left with an overall lead of about 100 delegates. Obama is mounting a two-week tour that will take him to the remaining primary states such as South Dakota and Oregon, but will concentrate on November battlegrounds, including Florida and Michigan where he had not campaigned earlier. In his appearance in Missouri, Mo., Obama sketched the case against McCain. "For two decades, he has supported policies that have shifted the burden onto working people. And his only answer to the problems created by George Bush's policies is to give them another four years to fail," he said. Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for McCain, said in response that Obama's rhetoric showed "more of the same negative, partisan politics that have paralyzed Washington for too long. Barack Obama talks about change and bipartisanship, but he has never showed the leadership needed to bridge party divides." McCain campaigned Tuesday in Washington state, discussing an action plan for global warming that he had sketched out the day before in an effort to appeal to independent voters by distancing himself from Bush on environmental policy. The Arizona senator cast Obama and Clinton as latecomers to the environmental battle and said the Democrats' plan to auction greenhouse gas emission permits - rather than giving them away, as he proposes - would lead to higher prices for consumers.