The results of the West Virginia primary on Tuesday, in which a convicted felon named Keith Judd from Texas won more than 40 percent of the vote against President Obama, are shocking at first glance. The state’s jobless rate is lower than the national average, and it has two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor.
But it’s actually not that surprising: West Virginia has a history of strong opposition to President Obama. It was another chance for voters there, even Democrats, to show their disapproval, and they did. Judd, a perennial candidate who has even run for president a few times, is serving a sentence for extortion in Texas, and most of the people who voted for him likely know nothing about him except his name is not Barack Obama.
In 2008, Obama lost the Democratic primary by more than 40 points to Hillary Clinton there. Two in ten West Virginia voters said in exit polls that race was a factor in their vote, and the vast majority of that bloc backed Clinton.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat running for reelection in the state, won’t say if he will vote for Obama, as Manchin is aware that could only hurt him politically.
WATCH MSNBC COVERAGE OF THE ‘CLOSE RACE’ IN WEST VIRGINIA HERE:
Racism in part seems to explain the hatred of Obama, but this is also a story of demographics. Obama, more than most Democrats, is particularly popular among urbanites, college graduates, members of minority communities, and people under age 30. (To be sure, Obama has support outside of these groups as well)
West Virginia has few of these kinds of voters. It’s population is older than the rest of America. Blacks comprise 3 percent of the population, Latinos about 1 percent. Only 17 percent of people over 25 there have graduated from college, compared to 28 percent in the U.S. overall. There is no large metropolitan city or university in the state that would draw and keep large amounts of liberal voters.
Effectively, West Virginia is a state packed with the kind of white, working-class voters who oppose Obama in Ohio, Michigan and Mississippi as well. But West Virginia, unlike those other places, doesn’t have large pockets of the kind of voters who like Obama.
Hence, West Virginia voters are unlikely to see much of the president this fall, as he and his aides largely conceded the state forever after the primary against Clinton.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr