Sanders Victory Highlights Clinton’s Electability Crisis

By | 5/11/2016 Leave a Comment
West Virginia Primary Loss Exposes Electability Issues

It wasn’t just that Hillary Clinton lost Tuesday’s West Virginia primary, it was the size of the loss in a state that was traditionally considered “Clinton Country” that made it so remarkable.

While appearing to be a tight race that might have gone either way in the early run-up to voting day, more recent polling – what little there was of it – began to reflect a possible edge for Sanders of perhaps around 3 or 4 percentage points. 

If Senator Sanders had hoped to see that 3 or 4 percent turn into reality, he was about to be blindsided by what actually came to pass. With a whopping 15% lead over Clinton at the end of the counting, this was a result that no one had seen coming. 

To put this into perspective a little, up until the turn of the century West Virginia had been a solidly Democratic state since the early 1980s. Since the 1990s it had also been a solidly reliable state for the Clinton family. In the 1992 Democratic primary, Bill Clinton won the state with 74.24% of the vote. In the general election that year, he won it with a healthy 48.41% of the vote, compared to incumbent President George H.W. Bush’s 35.39%. And in the 1996 general he again won the state with an even larger 51.51% of the vote over challenger Bob Dole.

Since then the state has remained solidly red when it comes to electing presidents, but during the 2008 Democratic primary race, the 42nd President’s wife dominated in the Mountain State, trouncing Barack Obama with a stunning 66.93% of the vote compared to his paltry 25.77%.

But all that came to an end in 2016. That stunning 66.93% in 2008 turned into a meager 36.0% this time around, with Bernie Sanders romping home with 51.4% of the vote.

To be fair, her recent comments at a CNN Town Hall, where she infamously stated “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” couldn’t have helped. But nevertheless, Democratic voters in West Virginia lean more conservative than in many parts of the country, which would seem to favor Clinton rather than the Socialist Senator from Vermont. But while almost 40% of them said they were looking for a less liberal president this time around, a full 60% of those still voted for Sanders.

Time and again exit polls have revealed her markedly weak support among the white working-class – especially males – and yet this was a key demographic she carried so strongly eight years ago in her fight with Barack Obama. If she’s to face Donald Trump in a general election match-up, that same demographic will be crucial to winning key Rust Belt states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. 

Trump, meanwhile, has been able to rely on a solid, loyal base of support from those very same white-working class voters, and not just those registered as Republicans but from independents and blue-collar Reagan Democrats, too. For Clinton and the Democratic Party, that’s a big problem.

The upshot:

With recent polls showing Clinton and Trump running virtually neck-and-neck in several critical swing states (and nationally) despite the real estate titan’s many controversies still being fresh in everyone’s minds, the Democratic establishment will have much to think about.

But while Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her cadre of superdelegates are unlikely to abandon their standard-bearer of choice anytime soon, the way things are shaping up they may well find the roar of anti-establishment fervor ringing in their ears long after the polls have closed in November. 

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