Why the Nominee (Almost) Always Wins West Virginia

Following up on my last item on West Virginia, a reader spotted another problem with Clinton’s claim that “[e]very nominee has carried the state’s primary since 1976, and no Democrat has won the White House without winning West Virginia since 1916.”

“How many of those West Virginia primaries only had one candidate on the ballot?” Jason Bryant asks. “WV is about the 50th contest in this primary season. If it’s been that way for a long time then it seems there wouldn’t have been many contests where everyone other than the front runner hadn’t dropped out.”

It’s true, West Virginia has traditionally been one of the last states to vote. This year, it’s the 51 st contest. In 2004, it was the 40 th . It came 43 rd in 2000. Bill Clinton was the presumptive nominee before West Virginia’s primary in 1992, as was Michael Dukakis by the time he won the state by a landslide in May of 1988.

So really, it’s not that West Virginia is a litmus test for who becomes the Democratic nominee; it’s that the nominee is usually already decided by the time West Virginia rolls around. It looks like this year will be the exception.