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What to watch for in West Virginia

  • Story Highlights
  • Demographics in West Virginia make Hillary Clinton win likely in primary
  • State is 95 percent white, has more voters over 65, less education and income
  • Clinton campaign hopes to highlight what it calls Barack Obama's weaknesses
  • Some Democrats hope Clinton win in state boosts her appeal as Obama VP choice
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By John King
CNN Chief National Correspondent
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(CNN) -- West Virginia is a state that appears built to accentuate Sen Hillary Clinton's strengths and to highlight the weaknesses her campaign asserts would make Sen. Barack Obama a more vulnerable Democratic nominee.

As you watch the results come in, or look at any demographic breakdown of the state, keep in mind the results of prior Democratic nominating contests, especially those in neighboring Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In those states, Clinton enjoyed a significant advantage among white voters; West Virginia is 95 percent white.

Clinton was much stronger among voters over the age of 65 in Pennsylvania and Ohio; more than 15 percent of West Virginia's population is 65 or over. (The national average is 12 percent.)

Clinton tends to do well with voters on the lower end of the income and education scales. Census Bureau and other government data show nearly 18 percent of West Virginians live below the poverty line and roughly 74 percent of the state's population makes less than $50,000 a year. Put another way, West Virginia ranked 50th among the states in household income and 48th in the percentage of adults with a high school diploma.

A look at the Democratic contests so far would suggest, at first glance, some opportunities for Obama. Virginia and Maryland, after all, border West Virginia and Obama carried the Democratic primaries in those states quite handily.

But there is a big difference: The population of Maryland is nearly 28 percent African-American, and in Virginia the percentage of African-Americans is 19 percent. And in West Virginia? Barely 3 percent.

But the expectation of a big Clinton win doesn't mean West Virginia isn't worth watching. Video Watch how Clinton is trying to make a point in West Virginia »

Wheeling, Parkersburg and Huntington, along the Ohio River, are three of West Virginia's population centers and helped President Bush to two wins in a state that long had been a Democratic stronghold in presidential politics.


Strong showings in those communities would be used as evidence in the Clinton campaign's argument that Obama has weaknesses that would make him a vulnerable Democratic nominee. Read why analysts say West Virginia is important »

On the other hand, some leading Democrats believe Clinton's biggest strategic hope in West Virginia and the following week in Kentucky is overwhelming support among white voters. That, they say, would boost an argument some of her supporters now make privately: that Obama would take a dramatic step toward solving his biggest electoral weakness if he tapped Clinton as his running mate.

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