In Poll, West Virginia for Clinton, Yet Win May Not Help

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WESTOVER, W.Va. -- Sign of the times: "Beer -- Cheaper than Gas. Drink, don't drive."

The mobile billboard gets chuckles from passing motorists and makes a handy toast for patrons at the bar inside the Triangle, a tavern with coin-operated pool tables and a blue-collar clientele in this community two miles from Morgantown, home of West Virginia University. Fuel prices along Interstate 79 hover close to $4 a gallon.

Tim Ham, 44, an iron worker from nearby Shinnston, says soaring health care costs worry him even more. He sets his beer down and explains why he thinks Hillary Clinton would be the best person to fix the nation's problems.

"She's more solid. She's already been around the boat. I like her health care policy," Ham said, adding that's enough to sway him to support Clinton over Barack Obama, the other Democrat, or Republican John McCain in the race for president.

Clinton and Obama square off Tuesday in West Virginia's Democratic primary, the first time in 48 years the Mountain State's primary has mattered in a presidential race. According to a recent poll, Clinton is favored to win, but it's uncertain how much a victory in West Virginia, with 28 delegates at stake, would help her dent Obama's delegate lead or stall his apparent momentum toward clinching the nomination.

WVU junior James Carbone, 20, a journalism major from Charleston, has liked Obama since he heard him speak during the 2004 Democratic national convention.

"I felt he hadn't been tainted by the system. I was hoping he would run, and I've always been in his corner," Carbone said during an interview at the WVU campus. "I love to hear him speak. I think he's got enough power to get people motivated, and he's less likely to alienate people, which I feel is one of Hillary's major drawbacks."

Ham, the iron worker, sees it differently. "Obama talks a lot, but I think he's more of a puppet. Hillary is not," he said.

Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have campaigned aggressively in West Virginia over the days since Hillary Clinton edged Obama in the Indiana primary and lost to him in the North Carolina primary on Tuesday. Obama hasn't returned to the state since a visit in March, although he's expected to make a campaign stop here before Tuesday's vote. Both campaigns have television ads running.

A Rasmussen Reports poll released Monday showed Clinton leading Obama by 56 percent to 27 percent in West Virginia.

Some of Clinton's strength relates to her husband, who carried West Virginia in the 1992 and 1996 presidential races, and "seems to be pretty popular still," said Neil Berch, a WVU political science professor.

Hillary Clinton's lead among white, working-class voters in West Virginia is not surprising considering how well she has done in the mountain regions of other states, he said.

"If you look at the Appalachia counties in Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio, they came in more than 2-to-1 for Clinton," Berch said.

Debbie Mesloh, Obama's communication director in West Virginia, says the Illinois senator's campaign has invested heavily in an organizational and media effort in the state. …