The New York senator’s decisive win over Democratic rival Barack Obama also continued a trend that has played out in other primaries this election cycle, when less-educated voters in rural and small town regions of neighboring Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia backed Clinton by wide margins.
Clinton allies will no doubt point to the West Virginia results — when her message again seemed to resonate with a largely white, working-class electorate — to argue that presumptive Republican nominee John McCain is likely to win significant support in economically strapped areas if Obama is the nominee.
Barely one-third of Clinton supporters said they would vote for the Illinois senator over McCain in the general election, according to exit polling conducted for the Associated Press and television networks. Just as many said they would vote for the Republican over Obama, while about 25 percent said they would not cast presidential ballots.
More than anything else, economic factors influenced voters in West Virginia, where the median family income is roughly $12,500 below the national median of about $58,500.
Half of Clinton voters said the current economic slowdown has affected them and their families a great deal, while only three in 10 Obama voters cited such economic strains.
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More than half of West Virginia voters were in families with incomes of $50,000 or less, and the former first lady was winning 69 percent of their votes.
“We’re a microcosm of middle America,” said Cleo Mathews, mayor of Hinton, in the southeastern part of the Mountain State. “She seems to understand us. We feel that she understands our issues — jobs, health care and gasoline prices.”
Female voters like Mathews were particularly generous to Clinton with their ballots on Tuesday. According to CNN exit polls, 71 percent of female voters backed Clinton, with a healthy 59 percent of men also supporting her.
Cultural issues also loomed large on voters’ minds. Thirty percent of those surveyed said Obama shared the views of his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, at least “somewhat,” according to the exit surveys. Exit pools also had Clinton winning the support of 66 percent of those who said they attend church “more than weekly” and 60 percent who go to services weekly.
West Virginia also proved to be a rare success story for Bill Clinton’s political road show. While the former president has in many cases proven a liability throughout the Clinton campaign, his presence proved quite helpful to his wife’s campaign in West Virginia.
According to exit polls, three-fourths of Clinton voters said the former president influenced their support for her.
Clinton’s West Virginia victory was geographically broad and deep. Many county vote totals mirrored her landslide victory statewide. Clinton pulled in more than 67 percent of the vote in Jackson County, along the Kentucky border, Clay County in the central part of the state, and Wyoming County in the far south.