With one of the final primaries coming up Tuesday (May 13) in West Virginia, the Democratic contenders were headed in very different directions over the weekend. As New York senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton pushed full steam ahead in the Mountain State, blowing off Mother's Day to campaign, rival Illinois senator Barack Obama set his sights on presumptive Republican nominee John McCain and the November election.
Clinton holds a formidable lead in West Virginia and is expected to cruise to an easy 20-plus-point victory in the state with a large number of working-class white voters, who have been her solid base throughout the campaign. But Obama has slowly increased his lead among pledged delegates, expanded his lead in popular votes, continued to have a huge advantage in fundraising and pulled ahead of Clinton in the amount of all-important pledged superdelegates.
In another sign that Obama expects to win over Clinton, he spent time Monday emphasizing his patriotism and support for a strong, humane military, according to The Associated Press. Seeking to rebut criticism that he's not ready to be commander in chief because he's never served in the military, he opposed the Iraq war and he doesn't wear an American-flag lapel pin, Obama told a crowd at the Charleston Civic Center that patriotism is about more than saluting flags and holding parades.
"At a time when we're facing the largest homecoming since the Second World War," Obama said of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans returning home, "the true test of our patriotism is whether we will serve our returning heroes as well as they've served us." Obama aimed the comment at McCain, hitting him for opposing a Democratic bill to expand education benefits for veterans.
Despite the near-mathematical impossibility of her beating Obama for the nomination, AP reported that Clinton campaigned hard in West Virginia on Monday, hitting four stops, where she implied that Democrats could lose the White House in November if she didn't win the nomination because, as she told the crowd at Tudor's Biscuit World in Charleston, "No Democrat has won the White House since 1916 without winning West Virginia."
Clinton used another historical example when she told a small group at a local high school near Clear Fork on Monday that "it was West Virginia that made it possible for John Kennedy to become president," according to CBS News. "Now, John Kennedy didn't have the number of delegates he needed when he went to the convention in 1960, [but] he had something equally as important: He had West Virginia behind him."
And while Clinton — who recently had to personally lend her campaign more than $6 million — hit up West Virginia voters, Obama's camp announced plans to make stops in Florida and Michigan, states in which he did not originally campaign due to the party's decision to decertify those states' votes as punishment for pushing up the dates of their primaries. Both states were won by Clinton, whose camp has been pushing hard to have those votes counted in the hopes that they could help their candidate top Obama in the popular-vote column.
In another sign that he's looking toward the general election, on Saturday, Obama launched his 50-state voter-registration drive, which will be co-chaired by singers Dave Matthews and Melissa Etheridge and actress Kerry Washington.
Assuming she stays in the race, Clinton is expected to win or do very well in the remaining five contests after West Virginia, but in another ominous sign, a new Gallup Poll had Obama breaking the nearly three-week-old statistical tie with Clinton for national Democratic preferences among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. The new figures have Obama ahead 50 percent to 43 percent, and even with the three-point margin of error built in at his lowest level of support, 47 percent, he still surpasses Clinton at her highest level, 46 percent.
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