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Obama Campaign Downplays W.Va. Loss

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Obama Campaign Downplays W.Va. Loss

Election 2008

Obama Campaign Downplays W.Va. Loss

Obama Campaign Downplays W.Va. Loss

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Sen. Barack Obama lost by a wide margin to Sen. Hillary Clinton in Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary in West Virginia. The campaign downplayed the loss. Obama's only campaign event Tuesday was a town hall meeting in Missouri, where he looked ahead to the general election.

DON GONYEA: This is Don Gonyea with the Obama campaign, not in West Virginia but in Cape Gerardo, Missouri. In fact, watching Obama, it was hard to tell there was even a primary anywhere yesterday. There was no big election night rally, no concession speech. His only campaign event - a Missouri town hall meeting - ended before the polls closed in West Virginia.

A spokesperson told reporters Obama did leave Senator Clinton a cell phone voice message offering congratulations. In a written statement, the campaign downplayed the loss, calling it expected. The release also noted that 28 delegates were at stake in yesterday's voting, of which Obama will get more than a third.

But even if all 28 had gone to Hillary Clinton, it would just offset the number of superdelegates Obama gained over the past week. So at the town hall meeting the candidate was clearly looking to the fall.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): The Bush/Cheney ticket won't be up for reelection, but Bush/Cheney policies will, because John McCain has decided that he is running for George Bush's third term in office. That's what his campaign has been about.

GONYEA: Obama's focus these days is very much on John McCain. He predicted a united Democratic Party in the general election. Hillary Clinton barely got a mention yesterday and then only because a member of the audience asked.

Unidentified Man: If you become the president of the United States, Ms. Clinton, what about Ms. Clinton? Is she going to be your vice president?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. OBAMA: What are you, a reporter? Or you a...

GONYEA: Then the senator, whose campaign emits an irrepressible victor's vibe these days, offered some words of restraint.

Sen. OBAMA: What I've said is I'm not going to talk about vice president this or vice president that until I've actually won. You know, it'd be presumptuous of me to pretend like I've already won and start talking about who my vice president's going to be. I've still got some more work to do, so - but I'll let you know.

GONYEA: The choice to be here in Missouri, in a state that held its primary three months ago, underscores the importance the Obama campaign attaches to the battlegrounds of November. In Cape Gerardo, Obama was in Republican territory in southeast Missouri, the town that produced Rush Limbaugh. It was a chance to repeat his pitch to independents and Republicans. Small business owner Betty Michael is an Obama supporter and a Democrat. But she said it's good that he came to this part of Missouri this early.

Ms. BETTY MICHAEL: It's not just for his own special little group that people like to brand him with, I don't think. I think he has a message for everybody. And I'm hoping my friends are listening down here.

GONYEA: Including the Cape Gerardo Republicans.

Ms. MICHAEL: Including all of them, yes.

GONYEA: After Missouri, the Obama fall campaign plan took him to Michigan, where this morning he's touring a Chrysler plant in suburban Detroit. Then it's a town hall meeting in Macomb County, a place where people first used the term Reagan Democrats in the 1980 election. Then it's a big rally tonight in the Republican stronghold of Grand Rapids, hometown of the late President Gerald Ford.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, traveling with the Obama campaign.

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Clinton Easily Wins West Virginia's Primary

David Greene: Clinton Insists 'It's Not Over'

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Don Gonyea: Obama Plays Down Loss

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New York Sen. Hillary Clinton celebrates her win in the West Virginia primary at the Charleston Civic Center, May 13, 2008. Chip Somodevilla/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Chip Somodevilla/AFP/Getty Images

Peter Overby: Clinton's Debt Issue

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Illinois Sen. Barack Obama speaks during a rally Tuesday at suit maker Thorngate Ltd. Company, in Cape Girardeau, in the swing state of Missouri. Obama is increasingly focusing on a general election strategy. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Supporters cheer as Clinton is announced as the projected winner of the West Virginia primary. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton won a landslide victory in West Virginia's Democratic primary Tuesday, defeating Illinois Sen. Barack Obama by a margin of more than 2 to 1.

The state's demographics favored Clinton: West Virginia voters are older, less educated and overwhelmingly white, groups which have flocked to her in past voting. But the results will do little to change the course of the race for the Democratic nomination for president.

In her victory speech, Clinton seemed to be addressing Democratic Party superdelegates and voters in the five upcoming contests, more than the cheering throng of supporters in front of her in Charleston, W. Va.

"I want to send a message to everyone still making up their mind," she said. "I am in this race because I believe I am the strongest candidate. ... I can win this nomination if you decide I should, and I can lead this party to victory in the general election, if you lead me to victory now."

But Clinton also was conciliatory toward Obama. She said she admired the Illinois senator and that they shared "a commitment to bring America new leadership."

Obama all but conceded the state the day before the election. His dramatic loss to Clinton in West Virginia is likely to revive lingering doubts about his lack of appeal for white, working class voters and his electability in November.

Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe told NPR that the New York senator would "absolutely" continue to campaign through the final primaries on June 3.

"We're winning this," McAuliffe said. "We will be ahead in the popular vote by the end of it. We will be very close on delegates. ... And then the superdelegates will have to make up their minds."

Delegate Math Favors Obama

But increasingly, the superdelegates are moving into the Obama camp. He gained 30 in just the past week, negating any advantage Clinton might have had from the 16 or more pledged delegates she won in West Virginia.

So while the drubbing in West Virginia may be embarrassing for Obama, he still leads Clinton by any tangible measurement: pledged delegates, superdelegates and the popular vote, and there just aren't enough contests left for her to catch up.

And while Obama is setting new fundraising records, Clinton's campaign debt is estimated to be more than $20 million and rising.

In a conference call Tuesday, Roy Romer, a superdelegate and former chair of the Democratic Party, announced his support for Obama, saying, "This race, I believe, is over." It's up to Clinton, he said, to decide when to drop out.

Obama Looks to General Election

Obama is increasingly focusing on the general election and courting the white, blue-collar voters who have tended to favor Clinton. He visited the swing state of Missouri on Tuesday, holding a town hall meeting on the economy at a clothing factory in Cape Girardeau. There he went after the presumptive Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, saying, "A vote for John McCain is a vote for George Bush's third term."

On Wednesday, Obama campaigns in Michigan. He'll stop by a Chrysler plant and hold another economic town hall. A rally in Republican-dominated Grand Rapids is planned for the evening.

Over the next week, Obama also plans to visit politically neglected Florida and Michigan, which were stripped of their delegates to the Democratic National Convention after they broke party rules by moving their primaries up to January. Both will be important swing states in November.

Clinton has no campaign appearances for Wednesday. Thursday she campaigns in South Dakota which, along with Montana, closes out the primary season with a vote on June 3.

The Demographic Story

West Virginia's voters are typical of those that have been drawn to Clinton from the beginning. The state is 96 percent white. Only Florida has a higher percentage of seniors. A mere 16 percent of West Virginians hold a college degree, the lowest percentage in the nation, and 25 percent lack a high school diploma. West Virginia also ranks near the bottom nationally in median household income.

According to Associated Press exit polls, about 60 percent of voters picked the economy as the most important issue. Clinton voters were more likely than those who supported Obama to say the economy had significantly hurt their families. Seventy percent of Clinton voters supported her proposal for a summer gas tax holiday. Obama has called the idea a gimmick. Only about a fifth of voters picked the war in Iraq as their top issue.

About half of West Virginia voters told pollsters that they believe Obama shares the views of his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, either "a lot" or "somewhat," though Obama has repudiated Wright's inflammatory statements. And about one fifth of Clinton's supporters said race was a factor in their vote, a higher percentage than in most of the states that have voted so far. About 60 percent of whites who said race didn't matter also voted for Clinton.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.