Could Clinton Really Win West Virginia in November?

The Clinton campaign fired off a new “memo” today arguing that West Virginia is essential to winning in November: “Every nominee has carried the state’s primary since 1976, and no Democrat has won the White House without winning West Virginia since 1916.” Clinton predicts that she would beat McCain there, “based on the strength of her economic message,” whereas Obama would lose.

But back in April, NBC News predicted on its electoral map that West Virginia wouldn’t be a swing state. Rather, they put it directly in McCain’s “base.”

NBC’s Mark Murray explained to me the rationale. Both Al Gore and John Kerry lost West Virginia in 2000 and 2004 because of social issues like guns and abortion, even when people thought the sagging economy would put the state in the Democratic column. (Voters linked Gore with the Clinton administration’s anti-gun laws.) Clinton or Obama could face a similar fate. Sure, the economy could be such a wreck that it overshadows social issues and hands the state to a Democrat, but the past few elections suggest that’s unlikely.

“If we were doing that map now, I think no doubt she’d do better than Obama against McCain in West Virginia,” Murray says, adding that they’d probably have the state lean toward McCain rather than putting it in his “base.”