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Bernie Sanders Wins West Virginia Primary

By Jessica Taylor | NPR
Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Bernie Sanders won the West Virginia Democratic primary on Tuesday over Hillary Clinton.

The Vermont senator's victory bolsters his decision to stay in the race even though the delegate math is heavily in Clinton's favor. Sanders won Indiana last week and could win several other states slated to vote this month.

"West Virginia is a working-class state, and like many other states in this country — including Oregon — working people are hurting. And what the people of West Virginia said tonight, and I believe the people of Oregon and Kentucky will say next week, is that we need an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent," Sanders told supporters at a rally in Oregon on Tuesday evening. That state votes next Tuesday.

West Virginia is a tough loss for Clinton to be sure, especially given the fact that she easily won the state in the 2008 Democratic primary over Barack Obama. But the bigger picture for her campaign doesn't change: Clinton's delegate lead over Sanders remains virtually insurmountable.

Because the state's 29 pledged delegates will be split proportionally between the two, Sanders needs a huge margin of victory in order to cut into Clinton's nearly 300 pledged-delegate advantage. When superdelegates are included, her margin grows to 774 delegates.

According to NPR's analysis going into Tuesday, to get a pledged majority, Sanders needed 65 percent of all remaining pledged delegates. Clinton needed just 34 percent. With superdelegates, Sanders needed 36 percent of all remaining delegates; Clinton needed just 14 percent.

The Mountaineer State played to many of Sanders' strengths: It's a heavily white, working-class state where voters are angry about the Obama administration's policies. And with the GOP race virtually decided, independent voters who typically have broken for Sanders could cast ballots in the Democratic primary.

According to exit polls, 91 percent of the electorate was white, while just 7 percent was African-American or Hispanic. A third of voters were independents, and those voters broke for Sanders by 47 percentage points. Only 27 percent of voters said the next president should continue Obama's policies.

Voters also were opposed to trade deals, a top issue with Sanders. More than half of voters said that trade with other countries takes away U.S. jobs, while 36 percent of voters said it creates jobs.

Clinton's loss highlights some of her main weaknesses, especially with white men. She came under fire from the state's important coal industry after she remarked last summer that "we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business" as she was talking about ways to promote alternative clean-energy businesses.

Thirty percent of Democratic primary voters came from a coal household, and Sanders won those voters with 63 percent of the vote.

To Clinton's frustration, the fact that Sanders extends his winning streak further underscores that she doesn't have the nomination fully sewn up, even though her team largely has been looking ahead to a general election matchup.

"I'm looking forward to debating Donald Trump come the fall," she told a crowd while campaigning in Kentucky earlier Tuesday.

In an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep last week, the Vermont senator reiterated he would stay in the race "until the last vote is cast" after the Washington, D.C., Democratic primary on June 14. And he continues to point to general election poll numbers that show him running strongest against Trump, hoping that will sway superdelegates to his side before the July convention in Philadelphia.

"I think we are perpetuating the political revolution by significantly increasing the level of political activity that we're seeing in this country," Sanders told NPR.

Clinton did win the Nebraska Democratic vote on Tuesday night, but those results were nonbinding. The state party used a different caucus on March 5 to determine its delegate allocation where Sanders won 15 pledged delegates Clinton's 10.

Trump, the de facto GOP nominee, easily won both the West Virginia and Nebraska primaries on Tuesday too. Both contests essentially were foregone conclusions after both Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich withdrew last week after Trump won the Indiana primary.

Both states are expected to go for the GOP nominee in November, but even in the Democratic primary there were schisms that exposed opportunities for Trump in the fall — and that suggest why Democrats aren't confident about a general election win despite Clinton's early advantage.

According to exit polls, just 33 percent of Democratic primary voters said they definitely would vote for the Democratic nominee; 27 percent said they would vote for Trump. Forty-four percent of Sanders voters said they would support Trump in the fall, while just 23 percent would vote for Clinton.

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