2008: Why West Virginia is more important than you think

Lost in the coverage of the West Virginia primary is the fact that John Edwards received 7% of the vote, suggesting a growing dissatisfaction with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Not that Obama's campaign will go off the rails before the convention, but for the party's front runner to be clobbered in the final days of the nominating process is one more piece of evidence that the outcome in November is not a lock.

The Democrats have a real problem, one with a long history. There is a certain type of candidate -- brainy, nuanced in policy discussions, aloof, often impatient with the blood, sweat and tears of retail politics, who is beloved of academics and Hollywood liberals -- think Mike Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry, but who fails to connect with the average voter with an intensity sufficient to carry the day.

The Obama team can blame racism and Hillary's negative campaigning for the outcome in West Virginia if they want to, but they'd be better to take heed: it repeats a pattern that has been apparent throughout the campaign -- many white working class voters are not warming to Barack Obama.
The West Virginia exit polls, TalkLeft reports, indicate that he lost white voters 69-28. Astounding? Not really. In Ohio, Clinton won white voters 64-34. In Pennsylvania, Clinton won whites 63-37. Indiana? Whites went for Clinton 60-40. Massachusetts? Whites went for Clinton 58-40. Rhode Island? 63-31 for Clinton. North Carolina? 61-37. And the same in Arkansas, Tennessee, Maryland, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri and so on.

Obama has won the white vote in Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin, Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, Nebraska, etc. West of the Mississippi all of them EXCEPT Wisconsin and VA.
Nor did Obama lose only among those sectors of the population -- older voters, white women -- unusually resistant to his charm. In West Virginia, he was also edged out in blocs that are normally in his corner -- the 18-30s, the educated and the affluent. The West Virginia outcome is not an anomaly: Obama’s white working class problem isn't limited to Appalachia; it's in the entire half of the country east of the Mississippi.

And that's not all, as the late night cable ads like to say. More than half the voters in WVa said they'd be less than happy if Obama was the nominee. Half believe he shares the views of the Rev. Wright (as, no doubt, in general, he does), and more than half think he does not share their values (expect to hear a lot more about lapel pins between now and November). Just under half of Clinton's supporters said they would not support the very junior senator from Illinois in the fall. Plus, more than half also hold the opinion, and this is huge, that he is not honest and trustworthy. Obama may have kicked off his extraordinary run for the roses with that out-of-nowhere win in 94%-white Iowa, but he is winding it up in 94%-white WVa with a potentially going-nowhere trouncing.

The Obama people should be thanking Clinton whose victory in West Virginia is an early-warning signal of what might happen in the fall. This is information to be addressed, not argued with or dismissed; if it is not addressed, soon and forthrightly, before it becomes set in stone that he is dishonest and untrustworthy, Obama stands a better than average chance of losing the general election.

If the public is suffering Obama-Clinton burnout, then nominating Clinton for vice, even if it is achievable over Michelle Obama's objections, may not be the smartest move. Writing for Political Insider, Taegan Goddard makes the case for John Edwards as the Democratic vice presidential candidate.
Ironically, by not choosing between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton in their tough primary battle, Edwards stands as a potential healer of the Democratic party. And by remaining neutral in the race, he's also best positioned to be Sen. Barack Obama's running mate.

Here's the case for picking Edwards:
1. He's already been tested on the national stage and not likely to cause a distracting scandal.
2. He appeals to the same working class white voters that back Clinton.
3. He favors Obama's new brand of politics.
4. He could put North Carolina and possibly other Southern states in play.
5. Sen. Hillary Clinton would probably support him. With more than 1,700 delegates in Clinton's pocket, Obama needs to at least get her tacit approval if he wants to have a unified party.
Except for number 4 (does Edwards really have a "southern" identity?), this is a fairly compelling case, to which I would add one additional point:

6. The choice of Edwards would reassure the Democrats' left-leaning activists, who have been worried that the party's core tenets are about to be sacrificed -- again -- to the ambitions of an administration -- whether led by Obama or Clinton matters not -- bent on portraying itself as a Third Way.

Party activists have been bemused by the Clinton-Obama domination of the debate. Clinton was never acceptable to the Left -- some progressives are so repelled by the Clintons that they rushed into Obama's arms, although Barack's relentless gassification of the issues has made Hillary's working class hero act nearly palatable. Progressives who are not sitting on their hands while they figure out what to do next have embraced Obama hoping they can get some cred with the young voters he's turned on; all are crossing their fingers that he is not the corporatist shill he appears to be.

Edwards selection as Obama's running mate would be a step toward mollifying the doubters, at least more so than adding any of the others on the short list to the ticket as veep. Apparently, Edwards will endorse Obama tonight. Too soon, John, unless the deal is already done.

(See, Edwards Endorsement Boosts Obama's Campaign, CQPolitics, 2008-05-14).

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