Eight Years Ago, Clinton Trounced Obama In West Virginia. Today, She Looks Likely To Lose

Thanks largely to the fact that she has moved left on coal, Hillary Clinton seems likely to lose today's West Virginia primary. But it will have only a minimal impact on Clinton's quest for a delegate majority.

Clinton Sanders 414 debate

Eight years ago, Hillary Clinton trounced Barack Obama in the West Virginia primary thanks in no small part to Obama’s position on coal mining and energy policy which included a very anti-coal position. Eight years later, Clinton is fighting Bernie Sanders on the same territory and seems to be paying a political price for comments that appear to now place her to the left of where Obama was on coal eight years ago:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With West Virginia’s economy battered by a coal industry in free fall, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is hoping that a strong showing in this state’s Democratic primary on Tuesday will keep him a force in the party’s politics by showing that his message still resonates, even though his rival, Hillary Clinton, has an almost insurmountable lead in delegates.

As Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders have campaigned here in recent weeks, they have found frustrated voters who express the kinds of anxieties heard all across the country — only with a far greater degree of urgency and pain, as they see their communities wither before their eyes.

“We just don’t want to be forgotten,” said Betty Dolin, who co-owns a restaurant in Danville, about 20 miles southwest of Charleston, where customers tucked into hearty meals like meatloaf and country fried steak with gravy.

She pointed out the empty tables that would once have been filled. “We can’t have coal? Bring us something else,” she said. “And I don’t mean job training. A lot of these men are too old to train for another job.”

Presidential primaries tend to bring attention to local issues as candidates move from state to state, and as the candidates have come to West Virginia to campaign, coal has been no exception.

“These communities need help,” Mr. Sanders said last week at a food bank in McDowell County. “It is not the coal miners’ fault in terms of what’s happening in this world.”

In some ways, Mr. Sanders is not a natural candidate to be courting the votes of coal miners: He is outspoken on climate change and advocates moving away from fossil fuels. But his message of economic fairness has been embraced by white, working-class voters.

Mr. Sanders has proposed legislation that would provide $41 billion to help coal and other fossil fuel workers and their communities, offering support like financial assistance and job training.

Mrs. Clinton has her own $30 billion plan to help coal miners and their communities, including a program to provide funding to local school districts to help make up for lost revenue.

But what people here bring up is a comment she made about coal workers in March, when she said during a televised forum, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” She was talking about providing opportunity through clean energy, and she emphasized that coal miners must not be left behind, but the sound bite was a damning one.

When Mrs. Clinton visited Mingo County last week, she was met with chants of “Go home!” from protesters. At a round-table event, Bo Copley, a 39-year-old father who had lost his job in the coal industry, told her, “I just want to know how you can say you’re going to put a lot of coal miners out of jobs and then come in here and tell us how you’re going to be our friend.”

Mrs. Clinton called her comment a “misstatement” and expressed regret. But it offended voters in struggling coal communities, and a candidate for West Virginia’s Supreme Court even used it in a campaign ad.

“A lot of people that I know are laid off, and you know that had to hurt the people,” said Janet White, 80, a librarian whose husband was a coal miner.

Today’s primary comes at the same time that West Virginia’s economy is being battered by a number of factors, all of which work against the coal industry that has been the state’s economic backbone for a long, long time:

In the last quarter of 2011, West Virginia had about 24,700 coal mining jobs; by the last quarter of 2015, that number had fallen to about 14,500, a decline of more than 40 percent, according to an analysis by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The industry has suffered because of a combination of factors, and a slew of coal companies have filed for bankruptcy protection.

The rise of hydraulic fracturing has caused a boom in natural gasproduction, driving down prices and prompting electric utilities to switch from coal to natural gas. A decade ago, coal was the source of about half of the country’s electricity generation; now, its share is about one-third, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Tougher environmental regulations have also taken a toll — the Obama administration has pushed to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, and President Obama is deeply unpopular in West Virginia — as has a decline in demand for coal exports.

“It’s a perfect storm of those three factors coming together at about the same time,” said John Deskins, the director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University. So far in 2016, coal production in West Virginia is down by more than a third compared with 2015, according to federal data.

Polling has been limited in West Virginia in advance of today’s primary, but the current RealClearPolitics average shows Bernie Sanders with a  6.0 point lead. This suggests that Sanders is likely headed not only for a win, but for one better than what the polls are showing. Given the economic state of West Virginia, and the politics surrounding the coal issue, this is hardly surprising.

West Virginia has long been one of the nation’s most economically distressed states, especially in the Appalachia region where the majority of the coal mining takes place, but matters seem to have become particularly acute in recent years thanks to what clearly seems to be the long-term decline of the coal mining industry. Thanks to the factors cited above, as well as a a host of others, poverty has become a far bigger problem in the state than it ever was before and economic opportunities even for people not directly involved in the coal industry seem to be drying up. Given that, it isn’t surprising that Bernie Sanders seems to be finding an audience there, or that Clinton is paying a political price for remarks that appear to some to indicate that her policies will be targeting the coal industry for even more pain. In essence then, the 2016 Democratic primary is a reversal of the situation in 2008 when Obama was perceived as being the one targeting coal and Clinton spent her time running to Obama’s right, something she did several times throughout that long fight eight years ago. Now, with Bernie Sanders lasting much longer than many suspected, she finds herself pulled to the left, with the result being that West Virginia, once a reliably Democratic state in Presidential elections, has gone with the Republican candidate in every Presidential election since 2000 and will likely do so again this year.

As for today’s primary, I think we can expect Sanders to score a win over Clinton, perhaps even by a wider margin than the polls are indicating. However, as has been the case with many of Sanders’ recent victories, it will have at best a minimal impact on the delegate count and Clinton’s march toward the 2,328 delegates she needs to win a majority. There is also a Republican primary in West Virginia today, as well as a contest in Nebraska, but with all of the candidates except Donald Trump having dropped out of the race they hardly matter except to the extent they will put Trump closer to achieving the 1,237 delegate majority he will need to officially clinch the nomination. At this point, that’s just a matter of time.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Hillary Clinton, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. CrustyDem says:

    Bernie is whiter than Obama.

    That’s all you need to explain this mystery…

  2. bookdragon says:

    @CrustyDem: Yep. And he’s more male than Clinton. Pretty much clinches it.

  3. stonetools says:

    I agree with the two above, and add that Clinton is wisely shifting resources from the primary campaign , which has been effectively decided, to the general election. Bernie can continue his vanity project/sop to his biggest supporters by winning the next few primaries, while Hillary focuses on Trump for a while.She’ll then finish big in California and New Jersey.

  4. An Interested Party says:

    Eight Years Ago, Clinton Trounced Obama In West Virginia. Today, She Looks Likely To Lose

    Eight years ago, Obama overcame Clinton for the Democratic nomination. This year, she looks more than likely to win…

  5. humanoid.panda says:

    8 years ago, she was running as Obama’s competition, not his successor…

  6. HarvardLaw92 says:

    West Virginia has all of 29 pledged delegates to award, which Clinton and Sanders will split in some proportion.

    Short version – who really cares if Sanders wins WV? It won’t save him.

  7. Andre Kenji says:

    Michael Dukakis won in WV, The state spent something like 60 years without electing a Republican to the US Senate. There is a little melancholy with all of that.

  8. Facebones says:

    Looks like I’m going to have to do a lot of math explaining on Facebook tonight… again.

    And also get ready for a slew of Fox News ratfvcking about how Hillary is really losing and stealing the nomination from the wildly popular Bernie. Hannity was trying that out last week.

  9. HarvardLaw92 says:


    I feel your pain. I had a Sanders supporter absolutely insist that Clinton had to garner 2,383 pledged delegates, and she wasn’t going to achieve that number, so I should leave out the superdelegates.

    I patiently tried to explain that 2,383 is exactly half of the ENTIRE delegate pool, including superdelegates, and that it is impossible to use that figure without including them, and that party rules do NOT mandate a majority of pledged delegates to win the nomination, but instead a majority of overall delegates in any combination of pledged and unpledged.

    My reward was being called a Hitlery shill (I shi*t you not …). You can’t educate people who refuse to acknowledge unpleasant truths.

  10. grumpy realist says:
  11. C. Clavin says:

    Clinton is to blame for the long-term decline in coal???

  12. Moosebreath says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Well, Trump says he will bring the coal jobs back, and he’s a straight talker who never says anything PC, so of course it will happen. Right after that wall is built.

  13. Andre Kenji says:

    The wall is going to be built using coal as bricks.

  14. Tyrell says:

    The other day Hillary did some back walking, re-stating, reverse positioning, and backspinning on her statements about
    “putting coal miners out of work”. Now she wants to help them. There needs to be a sensible, balanced policy concerning coal, not all of this frenzied close ’em down thinking from politicians on a soap box. The wind mill farms are being criticized and dismantled. It seems they are not the 7 cities of gold after all: hazardous to birds, disrupt radio signals, create unstable wind fronts, and do not produce enough electricity to make a profit.
    People are not against alternative energy. They just don’t want to pay a fortune for it.
    “Hillary’s been doing more twisting and turning than a ride at DollyWood !”

  15. MBunge says:

    New Quinnipiac polls have Hillary up one in Florida and Pennsylvania and Trump up four in Ohio.



  16. Gustopher says:

    As our friends on the right are so fond of pointing out, Senator Robert Byrd was a racist and a member of the KKK. He was also the Senator from West Virginia.

    Byrd moderated his views, and eventually recanted them. Clinton’s victory over Obama in 2008 might have been an indication that not all of West Virginia moderated or recanted their views.

    Now, she isn’t running against a black guy, so things are more difficult.

  17. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @C. Clavin: She’s not to blame for the decline, she’s to blame for acknowledging it and proposing a solution that the “public” finds unacceptable (which, ironically enough, is almost the same as Bernie’s solution…? …)

  18. An Interested Party says:

    New Quinnipiac polls have Hillary up one in Florida and Pennsylvania and Trump up four in Ohio.

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but those polls are flawed in many ways, chief among those flaws being that they are mighty white…

  19. MBunge says:

    @An Interested Party:

    The absolute conviction that an old, brittle white woman will turn out minority voters at the same rate as a youthful black guy who happened to be one of the most charismatic politicians in the last 50 years may go down as one of the weirdest self-delusions in the history of American politics.


  20. Jen says:

    @MBunge: I think her general election opponent’s lack of filter between his brain and his mouth could well be very helpful to her. Given the fact that Latino voter registration is soaring in some states, and the strength that Clinton has shown in primary voters in the minority community, combined with the Clinton GOTV machine, she may even end up with a higher rate of minority voters. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    The absolute conviction that an old, brittle white woman will turn out minority voters at the same rate as a youthful black guy who happened to be one of the most charismatic politicians in the last 50 years may go down as one of the weirdest self-delusions in the history of American politics.

    Oh please, there’s no need to be so melodramatic…I don’t know about any alleged absolute convictions or supposed weird self-delusions, but an old, racist white male blowhard will definitely help to turn out the minority vote…

  22. KM says:


    Looks like I’m going to have to do a lot of math explaining on Facebook tonight… again.

    I had a Sanders supporter tell me that he won all the states so she must be cheating. When I said no he hasn’t, told I’m full of BS. When I point out that she’s won 26 to his 20, I’m called a liar. When presented with a map, still called a liar. When present with the fact that even without the supers Hillary is still ahead in votes and delegates and thus still wining, called a #^*^*$& liar. When asked why “If Sanders is so damn popular, why isn’t he in the lead?”, was sent rude wall of text then blocked.

    I said it way back when and still stand by it: they are like the pissed off guy who only started winning matches later in the tournament but who’s poor start and failure to win the ones that count prevent them for final victory. Or the desperate NFL team who wins all their games late in the season – still not enough to qualify them for the SuperBowl but their fans swear they were cheated. Doesn’t matter that they have a string of impressive victories now, it matters that they didn’t do well enough to make the playoffs.

    Bernie’s had a great run but he’s not the choice of the majority. I think he’d be an awesome VP (very passionate, inspirational) but he’s souring the well for that at this point. Shouldn’t that be the goal for Sanders’ supporters now? That way if the Rep wet dream of an impeached Hillary happens, he’s President.

  23. @KM:

    A lot (not all, but a sizeable chunk) of Sanders’s support is driven by the same “some people just want to watch the world burn” populist anger that drives most of Trump’s support.

  24. MBunge says:

    @An Interested Party:

    People generally turn out in greater numbers to vote for someone than against someone.

    And even if we “unskew” those polls, what do we get? Hillary up 3 or 4 points instead of up 1? Trump tied with her instead of up 4? We’re still talking about Hillary Clinton being neck and neck in three major swing states with the guy she’s supposed to crush in an historic landslide.

    Now, it’s fair to look at those polls as outliers until we start seeing similar results, but that’s not the same as reacting with “THAT CAN’T POSSIBLY BE RIGHT BECAUSE WE ALL KNOW IT CAN’T BE RIGHT.”


  25. An Interested Party says:


    Oh really? Bernie supporters have been doing that for months…I think maybe even you have reacted that way in the past to Hillary’s inevitability…

  26. Kari Q says:


    People generally turn out in greater numbers to vote for someone than against someone.

    Not really. Voting against the other guys is an increasingly important motivator in elections.

    Intense dislike of the opposing party and its candidates by supporters of both parties means that party loyalty and straight-ticket voting are much more prevalent than in the past. As a result, the outcomes of elections for offices from the presidency down to the state and local level are overwhelmingly determined by the balance of party support in the electorate while local factors such as the records and personalities of the candidates are much less important than in the past.


  27. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Tyrell: I would love to see an actual link to a news article about wind farms being dismantled.

  28. MBunge says:

    New Reuters poll has Hillary ahead of Trump by one point nationally.


    Again, could be an outlier. Could be Republicans falling in line behind Trump before Democrats do the same with Hillary.

    But Barack Obama, one of the most gifted politicians any of us has ever seen got 53% and 365 electoral votes in 2008 and 51% and 332 electoral votes in 2012. The assumption that Hillary can duplicate either result without much trouble seems questionable to me.


  29. MBunge says:

    @Kari Q:

    Both parties are using negativity more because they’ve got little positive to offer.


  30. An Interested Party says:

    The assumption that Hillary can duplicate either result without much trouble seems questionable to me.

    But of course it does…any success by Hillary seems questionable to you…