Twenty-four hours later, the verdict seems to be that West Virginia’s results weren’t ideal for Obama, but they haven’t hurt him in any lasting way. Still, he’d no doubt prefer to avoid repeating the same experience in Kentucky, a state that’s a lot like West Virginia, but bigger. Can Obama prevent another rout?
The demographics suggest it will be tough. Kentucky is slightly less overwhelmingly white than West Virginia—90.2 percent instead of 94.9 percent—and has a black population of 7.5 percent compared to West Virginia’s 3.3 percent. But if Clinton attracts 69 percent of the white vote, as she did in West Virginia, there’s not much Obama can do to lessen the blow, even if he sways 90 percent of African-American voters. And look at the populations: Kentucky has 4.2 million people; West Virginia had only 1.8 million. After netting about 150,000 votes in West Virginia, Clinton could plausibly net twice that in Kentucky. A win of that size wouldn’t close Obama’s popular vote lead—unless you count Florida and Michigan, which she does—but it would bring her within striking distance, especially if she manages to keep Obama’s Oregon lead in the single digits.
Obama also has the (chosen) disadvantage of not visiting Kentucky. We’ve seen that when he shows his face in a state, as he did in Pennsylvania, he cuts into Clinton’s lead. But Obama logged one paltry stop in West Virginia before the primary, and one in Louisville on Monday, with no more events planned. If 90 percent of life is showing up, Obama hasn’t gotten the message. His strategy of focusing on the general election—he’s in Michigan now—may well pay off. But ignoring Clinton might not work so well if she’s racking up vast margins.
Not that Obama isn’t competing there. He has TV spots up across the state touting his ethics legislation and commitment to “clean coal.” The campaign is also sending out mailers that show Obama standing in front of a big gleaming cross. (Smart move, given many Americans’ impassioned determination to believe that Obama is Muslim.)
It’s clear Obama thinks he can afford to lose Kentucky—even by a landslide. And he’s probably right. He’s 140 delegates away from the nomination, which is ultimately the only metric that counts. But at the same time, he’s giving Clinton yet another reason to hang on through June 3, marshal her own popular vote numbers (counting Florida, Michigan, and Puerto Rico), and make one final plea to supers to make her the nominee.