What is Hillary Clinton Doing?

The West Virginia primary in the rear view mirror, Kentucky and Oregon primaries are a week away. John Dickerson joins Madeleine Brand to talk about whether the upcoming primaries matter and what Clinton is trying to achieve.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Hillary Clinton creamed Barack Obama in West Virginia by 41 percentage points. It doesn't matter. That's the opinion of most political analysts today. That's because Senator Obama still leads in delegates, the popular vote, and in the number of states won. John Dickerson is here now. He's chief political correspondent for slate.com and John, let me play you a clip of tape of Hillary Clinton last night at her victory rally in Charleston, West Virginia.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): The White House is won in the swing states, and I am winning the swing states.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BRAND: So, John, that is her argument. That she is the better candidate in the general election, that she can win these big states, states that would otherwise go to a Republican.

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Analyst Correspondent, slate.com): That's exactly right. That's her argument. And her problem, however, is that Barack Obama has some counterarguments and what she needs in this moment, to convince these superdelegates to reverse the trend among pledged delegates, is a really knock-out argument. And what Barack Obama can say in return is, look, there is no evidence that these voters who are going for Clinton, these white, working-class voters, won't vote for me in a general election.

In fact, there is evidence in polling that suggests that Obama does just as well against John McCain among this part of the electorate as Hillary Clinton. And also, he can say, well, I've won other swing states. I won Virginia, which could be a swing state. I've won Colorado, and Wisconsin, and Minnesota. So, he has his version of these same arguments, and they can go back and forth. But any conversation that goes back and forth inevitably helps Obama because he's got the momentum among the pledged delegates, and now among the superdelegates.

BRAND: Still, does he not have a problem, though, with the low-income white voters? Those voters seem to continually go with Hillary Clinton and according to exit polls, a lot of them would not vote for Barack Obama in a general election.

Mr. DICKERSON: He has a thorough problem with white, working-class voters. It's gone throughout the states. He's done well in some places, Wisconsin, but most of the time he has a problem with blue-collar voters, and he's got to fix that. And he's working on it, in fact, as we speak. While Clinton was celebrating in West Virginia, Obama was in Missouri in a rural area. And he's in Macomb County, the famous sort of seed of the Reagan Democrats in Michigan, today doing a plant tour, talking about the economy, showing Democrats that he's already working on this problem as far as the general election goes. So he knows he has a problem. He's working to try to fix it.

BRAND: He's in Michigan today? Michigan has already voted, so he is focusing on the general?

Mr. DICKERSON: Michigan has voted. Of course Michigan, along with Florida, is part of this dispute in the Democratic Party about whether to seat, and how to seat, the delegates. Hillary Clinton, one of her arguments to superdelegates is that the delegates should be assigned based on the elections that were held in Michigan and Florida. Of course, Barack Obama's name wasn't on the ballot in Michigan, and in Florida the campaigns weren't competing. This is now a matter of debate that will be resolved on the 31st of May in the Rules Committee of the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton wants the delegates seated favorably for her. That's not likely to happen, but that's part of her argument for how she might be able to pull this off.

BRAND: So she needs that, and then she would need almost every remaining undecided superdelegate to go her way.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yes. She would need about 60 to 70 percent, depending on whether and how Florida and Michigan were seated, their delegates. If those delegates are not seated, let's just start with that, she would need 70 percent of the remaining delegates to beat Obama. So, it's a very tough hill to climb, and it still would be pretty tough even if she could get Michigan's and Florida's delegates seated.

BRAND: Thank you, John.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you.

BRAND: That's John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for slate.com.

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Clinton Easily Wins West Virginia's Primary

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton campaigns in W.Va.

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

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/AFP/Getty Images
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama plays pool at a campaign stop in W. Va.

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

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Two young women hold signs supporting New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

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

itoggle caption 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.

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