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What might West Virginia's primary mean?

  • Story Highlights
  • West Virginia holds its Democratic primary Tuesday
  • New poll shows Sen. Hillary Clinton with a sizable lead over Sen. Barack Obama
  • Social issues, like guns and abortion, weigh heavily on voters in the state
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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CHARLESTON, West Virginia (CNN) -- West Virginians will head to the polls Tuesday for the state's Democratic primary between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But what will the vote there really mean after new delegate totals show Obama with a sizable lead?

Some say it could send a sobering message to Obama's Democratic supporters.

West Virginia is expected to go for Clinton big time -- and the polls show it.

Clinton has a 43-point advantage over Obama, 66 percent to 23 percent, according to a survey from the American Research Group released Friday.

The poll was conducted after Tuesday's primary results and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

"This state is really Hillary Clinton's wheelhouse. It's an older population, socially conservative, blue-collar workers," said Kennie Bass, a political reporter for WCHS in West Virginia. Video Watch more on the West Virginia primary »

Obama acknowledges that West Virginians favor Clinton.

"She is going to do very well in West Virginia and Kentucky. She will win those states, in all likelihood, by significant margins," Obama said this week.

According to CNN's latest estimate, Obama has 1,860 total delegates to Clinton's 1,696.

A big Clinton win will send a powerful message that there are a lot of Democrats not ready to get on the Obama bandwagon. Video Watch more on the Democratic primary race. »

"There was just an AP article posted that found how Sen. Obama's support among hardworking Americans, white Americans is weakening again, and how the whites in both states that have not completed college were supporting me," Clinton said in a USA Today interview May 7.

For the last two-thirds of the 20th century, West Virginia was a solidly Democratic state, and it still is in state politics.

West Virginia had not voted for a non-incumbent Republican for president since Herbert Hoover. It even voted for Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Then came 2000, when George W. Bush surprised everyone by winning West Virginia. How did he do it? With social issues, such as abortion, gays and -- most important -- guns, in a state where more than 70 percent of the voters have a gun in their households.

What you get in West Virginia is not so much Reagan Democrats as Bush Democrats.

Republicans believe that they know how to beat Obama here.

"They would likely paint him, if he's the nominee, as a far-left liberal who is pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, pro-civil union. That will not play well in West Virginia. Social issues register very high on the meter here," Bass said.

Democrats can fight back by running hard on the Bush economy. But they could be in for a surprise.

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"As coal goes, so goes the economy of West Virginia in many respects. Coal prices right now are about $100 a ton; metallurgical coal is trading at nearly twice that. So these are not difficult times in West Virginia economically, so to speak," Bass said.

If Obama gets the nomination and it looks like the only way he can win is to get those West Virginia Democrats back, you can be sure he will think seriously about asking Clinton to go on the ticket.

CNN's Ed Hornick and Alexander Mooney contributed to this report.

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