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Let's Not Overreact to the Judd Mutiny

A Commentary By Kyle Kondik

Friday, May 11, 2012

We would make a joke about President Obama only taking 59% of the West Virginia primary vote against a federal prison inmate named Keith Judd, but every possible one was exhausted on Twitter by Wednesday morning. Suffice it to say, it was an embarrassing performance for the president, albeit in a state he has no chance of winning in November.

And that's just it: West Virginians don't like Obama, they never have and they most likely never will. We could hypothesize on the reasons for that, but it's beside the point. Obama got crushed there in his 2008 primary against Hillary Clinton (67% to 26%), and he will be crushed there in the fall.

But what does Obama's horrible Mountain State showing say about similar regions, such as Southeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania? Does it indicate that he'll do poorly in these regions in November?

Yes, probably. But he did poorly in these places in 2008, too.

Of the 14 counties defined in the Ohio Politics Almanac as part of Southeast Ohio, Obama carried only four. On the other hand, Bill Clinton carried 13 of these 14 counties in 1996. Likewise, in the 26 counties of Western Pennsylvania -- defined as those west of Centre County -- Obama won only four in 2008. Clinton, meanwhile, won 15 of the 26 in 1996. Additionally, Obama lost every single one of these 40 counties during his 2008 primary with Hillary Clinton.

Even in these major, competitive swing states, Obama's fortunes hinge on other areas, as evidenced by his ability to win both of these states in November 2008 despite his poor performance in these two regions. Same thing for the other states touching West Virginia: heavily Republican Western Virginia, heavily Republican Kentucky and the conservative panhandle of deeply Democratic Maryland. Those regions are united with West Virginia in their dislike of the president, but Obama doesn't need his winning votes to come from them.

More interesting and telling for November, at least on the surface, is Obama's performance in North Carolina. There he took about 79% of the vote, against 21% for "no preference." But it's important to note that until 2008's razor-thin Obama victory, North Carolina had gone Republican in every previous presidential election dating back to 1968. That's despite the fact that, even now, Democrats hold a roughly 760,000-voter advantage in party registration. There were many "Democrats" who voted on Tuesday who assuredly weren't going to vote for the president in the fall. That's reflected to at least some degree in Obama's underwhelming primary performance there.

In last week's Crystal Ball , Rhodes Cook looked at Obama's primary performance and observed the following:

And what the results so far seem to show is that Obama remains strong among the basic core elements of the Democratic Party -- urban voters, minorities and the college campuses -- as well as showing continued appeal among an important swing element of the electorate, the suburbs. The president has tended to fare less well in this year's primary voting in blue-collar strongholds and rural, often Republican-oriented, counties.

That observation remains true today, even after the Judd Mutiny.

Tuesday's primaries were conducted on largely Republican turf: Obama is going to lose West Virginia in the fall, and we do not favor him at this point to hold North Carolina and Indiana, two states he very narrowly won in 2008. And, don't forget -- Mitt Romney didn't get more than 70% of the vote in any of these three states, despite his contest being effectively over. Rhodes' observation largely applies to Romney's primary performance too. Indiana, North Carolina and West Virginia are not states ideally suited to Romney or Obama, but they are ones that are likelier than not to back Romney.

Meanwhile, the battle for the presidency probably will be won and lost elsewhere.

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