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Analysis: Clinton crushes Obama across the board

  • Story Highlights
  • Clinton carries broad spectrum of West Virginia voters
  • As expected, biggest margins are at lower end of the socioeconomic ladder
  • But it is still tough for Clinton to diminish Obama's aura of inevitability
  • Obama's campaign travel plans show he's looking toward November
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By Alan Silverleib
CNN
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(CNN) -- After enduring a week of political obituaries, Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign proved Tuesday that it still has some life.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton says she is "more determined than ever to carry on this campaign."

As expected, Clinton trounced Democratic front-runner Sen. Barack Obama in the West Virginia primary. In the process, she underscored Obama's weakness with working-class white voters, a segment of the electorate that may prove pivotal in November.

Buoyed by her landslide margin, Clinton vowed to continue what has become a longshot campaign, telling supporters at a Charleston rally that she is "more determined than ever to carry on this campaign until everyone has had a chance to make their voices heard."

Clinton's victory in West Virginia was decisive. She won men and women. She carried a majority of voters in every age group. She captured liberals, moderates and conservatives. She took a majority in every income bracket.

Clinton's largest margins, as expected, were registered among voters at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. Among white voters without a college degree, Clinton defeated Obama by 50 points. Among white voters making less than $30,000 a year, Clinton's margin of victory was more than 60 points.

Older voters and white women -- part of Clinton's core constituency -- also rallied strongly to her beleaguered campaign. Voters 65 and older supported her by a 38-point margin. White women backed her by 51 points.

Clinton's proposal to suspend the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gasoline tax for the summer, an idea belittled by most economists and rejected by Obama as a political gimmick, proved to be a winner in West Virginia. Voters supported the gas tax suspension by an almost 2-to-1 ratio. Those voters who supported suspending the gas tax broke for Clinton, 74 to 19 percent.

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One major warning sign for Democrats could be found in the percentage of Obama and Clinton supporters apparently unwilling to support the opposing candidate. Only 38 percent of Clinton's voters said they would vote for Obama in a general election matchup against presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain. A bare majority (54 percent) of Obama's voters said they would vote for Clinton against McCain.

Although Clinton registered an impressive margin of victory in West Virginia, there are serious questions as to whether her victory there will do much to diminish Obama's aura of inevitability.

The Illinois senator has benefited from a steady stream of superdelegate endorsements since his win in North Carolina last week. He is edging steadily closer to the 2,025-delegate threshold needed to claim the Democratic nomination.

The Clinton camp is nevertheless likely to seize upon the West Virginia results to press her argument to the dwindling pool of uncommitted superdelegates that she would be the stronger Democratic candidate against McCain in the fall.

Over the past week, Clinton has highlighted the fact that white, working-class West Virginia was once a Democratic stronghold. In fact, no Democrat has captured the White House without West Virginia since Woodrow Wilson won a second term in 1916. President Bush was able to win the socially conservative state twice largely on the basis of hot-button issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control.

Similarly, it has been 48 years since a Democrat won without Kentucky, which holds its primary next week. The latest polling there shows Clinton leading Obama by more than 25 points. Kentucky has a number of similarities with West Virginia in terms of the overall demographic composition of its electorate.

Looking ahead to the final five primaries through June 3 (in Kentucky, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Montana), Clinton will have to balance a number of political and financial calculations if she does remain in the race.

Though most senior Democrats are not openly pushing for her to withdraw, they have sent signals that she should not damage Obama's candidacy by launching new negative attacks. Clinton also needs to determine how much more debt she is willing to add to a campaign that is already more than $20 million in the red.

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For his part, Obama is increasingly ignoring Clinton and looking ahead to the fall campaign. He spent part of Tuesday in Missouri, which is almost certain to be a crucial swing state in November. He will stump for votes Wednesday in Macomb County, Michigan, the original home of the blue-collar "Reagan Democrats" who have been so reluctant to embrace his candidacy.

Next week, Obama heads to the key general election state of Florida.

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