Obama's Path to Defeat?

Kenneth Blackwell, writing in the New York Sun, thinks the results of the West Virginia Democratic primary show that Obama can’t win the general election:

…West Virginia is thought of as a reliably Democratic state. The governor of that state, Joe Manchin, a Democrat, won office in a massive landslide. Both the senators of West Virginia — Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller — are completely safe as Democrat incumbents.

Historically, West Virginia’s politics have turned on two things: unions and culture. While the former usually controls electoral outcomes there, the later will likely deliver the state’s Electoral College votes to John McCain as it did for President Bush in 2000 and 2004.

West Virginia’s economy is dominated by coal-mining and other blue-collar, labor intensive industry. Unions dominate the state’s labor scene, and have made West Virginia a Democrat stronghold for most of the last 108 years.

But the second factor, traditional culture, has two aspects in particular that have made West Virginia a purple swing state in modern presidential elections.

Many West Virginians live in small towns, and are at least moderately religious. With this comes a belief in traditional marriage, commitment to family, and a heavy dose of national pride.

Patriotism runs deep in the Mountain State. Nothing speaks more to the West Virginian focus on heritage than their commitment to Second Amendment freedoms. West Virginia is gun country, as are all the states along the Appalachian Trail, where the National Rifle Association is strong. Democrats are very successful in West Virginia, but almost without exception those Democrats make clear to voters their pledge to fight and protect for the right to keep and bear arms.

In the past two presidential elections those cultural issues drove West Virginia to vote for Mr. Bush. Al Gore did not hide his anti-gun credentials in 2000, and lost the state to Mr. Bush by six points. John Kerry similarly did not disavow his anti-gun record in 2004, and added to it his refusal to support traditional marriage. He lost the state to Mr. Bush by 13 points.

So how does Senator Obama respond to the clear challenge he has with white working class voters. He tells them the Appalachian Trail is not his path to the White House. With statements reminiscent of Marx’s “opiate of the masses,” Mr. Obama suggests guns and religion are emotional crutches for blue-collar workers.

Consequently, Mr. Obama failed to connect with West Virginia voters. He drove many of them straight into Mrs. Clinton’s waiting arms and he seems to be executing the same strategy in the Bluegrass State of Kentucky. To lose both states by wide margins (presuming he loses Kentucky as well) does not bode well for him in the general election. He has placed his electoral bet on other states and voter coalitions.

But this problem is larger than West Virginia and Kentucky, again, presuming she also wins that primary. There are millions of similar voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and other states without which Mr. Obama cannot win the White House. And Mrs. Clinton has beaten Mr. Obama in every single one of them, often by wide margins.

I hope he’s right.

Byron York provides some startling numbers:

The West Virginia results were as across-the-board as you can get. [Hillary] won 57-34 among men and 70-24 among women. She won 64-25 among voters who attend church more than once a week and 64-34 among voters who never go to church. She won 69-24 among voters without a college degree and 54-39 among voters with a degree. She won 69-25 among voters who make less than $50,000 a year and 58-34 among voters who make more than that. She won 65-28 among voters who think the economy is the most important issue, 57-37 among voters who think the war in Iraq is the most important issue, and 68-23 among voters who think health care is the most important issue. She won 67-26 among white voters. (We don’t know the breakdown among black voters, because they were too few in number — West Virginia is 95 percent white — for exit pollsters to calculate, although results in other states suggest that blacks probably voted 90-plus percent for Obama.) She won 67-25 among voters who have a union member in their household and 63-31 among voters who don’t. She won 56-38 among voters under 30 years old, 63-27 among voters between 30 and 44 years old, 65-27 among voters between 45 and 59 years old, and 68-28 among voters 60 and older. Among all voters, 70 percent want the campaign to continue, against just 24 percent who want it to end as soon as possible.

To quote Democratic strategist Paul Begala, can Obama win with a coalition of “eggheads and African-Americans”?

Democrats are thrilled over their recent victories in long-time Republican Congressional districts in the South and Midwest. This confirms the wisdom of the Chuck Schumer-Rahm Emanuel strategy of convincing right-wingers to run as Democrats (think Virginia senator Jim Webb). Fortunately, their candidate for president is a flamboyant liberal.

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