Clinton rolls in West Virginia

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Associated Press


— Hours after being routed by Hillary Rodham Clinton in West Virginia, Barack Obama picked up two more superdelegates, offering fresh recognition from Democratic leaders of his inevitable nomination.

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An embattled Clinton is urging party leaders to take a hard look at West Virginia, which she won with 67 percent of the vote. But her victory did little if anything to knock Obama off stride as he approaches the delegate totals needed to give him the presidential nomination.

It did, however, expose in stark terms his disadvantage with blue-collar voters, fueling Clinton’s last-gasp argument to party VIPs that she’s the Democrat with broad appeal against Republican John McCain.

‘‘Choose who you believe will make the strongest candidate in the fall,’’ she said at her Charleston rally in a pitch aimed at superdelegates. She was returning to Washington to meet Wednesday with some of them.

‘‘The White House is won in the swing states,’’ she said, ‘‘and I am winning the swing states.’’

Obama isn’t ceding the latter point.

His campaign announced his pickup Wednesday of two superdelegates: Rep. Peter Visclosky of Indiana and Democrats Abroad chair Christine Schon Marques.

Also endorsing Obama were three former Securities and Exchange Commission chairmen — William Donaldson, David Ruder, and Arthur Levitt Jr., who was appointed by former President Clinton. The campaign released a joint statement by the former SEC chiefs, well as former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, that praised Obama’s ‘‘positive leadership and judgment’’ on economic issues.

‘‘We are aware of the reasoned approach Mr. Obama has taken in analyzing the current financial crisis and the need for balanced regulatory reform,’’ the statement said. ‘‘We believe that such a constructive approach can be extended broadly in the economic area as well as elsewhere.’’

Obama was campaigning Wednesday in Michigan, keenly aware of the need to recapture the unifying promise of his earlier primary and caucus wins, which transcended geography, parties and even racial divisions at times.

Specifically, he arranged to visit workers at a Chrysler factory in Macomb County, bellwether of bellwethers, and rally in Grand Rapids.

‘‘This is our chance to build a new majority of Democrats and independents and Republicans,’’ Obama said in Missouri, a November battleground.

Nearly a quarter of the voters in West Virginia’s primary were 60 or older, and a similar share had no education beyond high school, exit polls indicated. More than half were in families with incomes of $50,000 or less, and the former first lady was winning nearly 70 percent of their votes.

Clinton won 20 of the 28 delegates at stake in West Virginia and Obama won eight.

With the superdelegates picked up Wednesday, that left Obama with 1,885 delegates, to 1,717 for Clinton, out of 2,026 needed to clinch the nomination at the party convention in Denver this summer. The Democratic win on Tuesday in a Mississippi special election increased by one the number of delegates needed to win the nomination.

He added a symbolic victory Tuesday, defeating Clinton in Nebraska’s nonbinding primary by a 49-47 percent margin. Nebraska already held caucuses three months ago and Obama locked up most of the delegates in that contest.

Obama has picked up about 30 superdelegates in the last week, altogether a bigger prize than West Virginia offered either candidate in the lopsided primary.

Superdelegates are elected officials and other prominent Democrats who can vote as they choose, without regard to primaries or caucuses. About 250 have not declared their support.

Obama has tapped the crucial superdelegate pool to considerable effect and in the last week overcame Clinton’s campaign-long advantage with that group. They’ve proved resistant to Clinton’s recent entreaties, but she was trying again Wednesday.

‘‘This race isn’t over yet,’’ she said.

The New York senator also planned to meet members of her finance committee. Her campaign is facing more than $20 million in debt.

Still ahead are five primaries, beginning next week in Kentucky and Oregon, then Puerto Rico on June 1 and Montana and South Dakota two days later.

Obama is favored in Oregon and South Dakota, with Montana apparently more competitive and the others looking solid for Clinton.

On May 31, a convention committee will hear Clinton’s appeal to seat delegations from disputed primaries in Florida and Michigan.

Clinton wants the delegates seated — a decision that would cut into Obama’s advantage — even though the primaries were held so early in the year that they violated Democratic party rules.

Obama has indicated a willingness to compromise on that matter now that he’s more confident of ultimate victory.

Calvin Woodward reported from Washington.