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Sanders Takes the Mountain State

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may both have locked away their party’s nominations, but only one managed to win on Tuesday night in West Virginia.

Fred Greaves / Reuters

The state of West Virginia, John Denver famously said, is “almost heaven.” But purgatory is also just a step away from heaven, and that’s where Bernie Sanders finds himself after the Mountain State’s primary Tuesday.

The Vermont senator won big in West Virginia’s Democratic primary, defeating Hillary Clinton. That follows a similarly big win—an upset that defied polling—in Indiana last week. Although Clinton won the tiny Guam primary over the weekend, Sanders seems like the favorite to win the two remaining Democratic contests this month, in Kentucky and Oregon on May 17. Yet that winning streak won’t do anything to dislodge Clinton from her spot as prohibitive frontrunner. With her huge lead in delegates, Clinton is still on course to win the nomination, and Sanders remains unable to climb out of purgatory and into paradise—or at least the presidential nomination.

How did Sanders win on Tuesday, though? West Virginia was once a solid Democratic state, a hotbed of labor unionism that went for Democratic presidential candidates from 1932 on in all but the Republican landslide years of 1956, 1972, and 1984. The state was represented in the Senate by two grand old men of the party, Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller. But more recently, the state has trended Republican, for a variety of reasons: Party realignment around conservative issues has led socially conservative West Virginians toward the GOP; racial animus toward President Obama has hurt the local Democratic Party; and the combination of weaker unions and liberal environmental advocacy against coal has lost the Dems some blue-collar backing.

Sanders is not much like Robert Byrd—a former Klansman who became a moderate liberal—nor is he that much like Rockefeller, who was, well, a Rockefeller. But Sanders’s New Deal-flavored leftist populism still resonates with West Virginians. Like many states where Sanders has done well, the Democratic electorate is also overwhelmingly white. While Sanders has ratcheted up his discussions of race, it didn’t come naturally to him—he’s a class guy, really—and he doesn’t wield identity politics nearly as forcefully or as naturally as Hillary Clinton.

If Sanders went into the West Virginia contest with an edge, Clinton didn’t necessarily do much to help herself. She faced harsh blowback over comments she made back in March at a town hall: “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business … and we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations.” Clinton was trying to talk up her retraining plan, but she managed to step on her own message with unwise phrasing, and only the part about putting miners out of business stuck in West Virginia, where the industry remains a powerful force and icon, even as production and jobs have shrunk.

Demographics help explain why Sanders is expected to do well in the next two contests. Kentucky is another semi-Southern, rural, very white state where coal mining is important. Oregon, too, is heavily white and rural—while its biggest urban center, Portland, may favor Sanders for different reasons. “Last week we won a really big victory in Indiana, and tonight it appears we’ve won a big, big victory in West Virginia—and with your help, we’re going to win in Oregon next week,” Sanders told an enthusiastic crowd in Salem, Oregon.

This is no doubt a source of frustration for Clinton campaign, which sees the race as essentially over but can’t seem to close the deal quite yet—that should happen on June 7 in California, if not before and barring some earth-shaking development in the race. She has begun to change her rhetoric and approach, acting like a general-election candidate and trying to take on Donald Trump. Sanders, meanwhile, has toned down his own attacks on her, but he’s determined to stay in the race. For the time being, Sanders isn’t the only Democratic candidate stuck in limbo.

Speaking of Trump, he has put the Republican Party in its own sort of hell—or to paraphrase West Virginia’s state slogan, a situation that is wild, if not wonderful. Since his win in Indiana on May 3 and the exits of Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich, he is now the only candidate in the Republican race and the party’s presumptive (if not universally supported) nominee. Trump won handily in both West Virginia and in Nebraska, which held its primary Tuesday. (Democrats caucused in the Cornhusker State on March 5; Sanders won by a landslide there, too.) In an entertaining twist, Trump did something no career politician would do: He urged his West Virginia supporters not to get out and vote. “You don’t have to vote anymore, save your vote for the general election, forget this one, the primary’s done,” he said last week. Enough of them showed up to hand him the win, though.

Nebraska provided a small frisson of excitement, too. The state’s junior senator, Ben Sasse, has been one of the most outspoken critics of Trump, has refused to back him, and is often mentioned as a potential third-party candidate. Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz—who dropped out of the race after Trump beat him last week—flirted with reanimating his suspended campaign if he won Nebraska, which he admitted seemed unlikely. “We launched this campaign intending to win. The reason we suspended our campaign was that with the Indiana loss, I felt there was no path to victory,” Cruz told Glenn Beck on Tuesday. “If that changes, we will certainly respond accordingly.” But it didn’t change; Trump won Nebraska.

That means both the Democratic and Republican parties leave Tuesday’s contests in much the same way they arrived. Trump has nearly made it to the promised land, while Sanders, Clinton, and Republican elders still find themselves locked out of heaven.

David A. Graham

Updates

This live blog has concluded

As Newsweek's Taylor Wofford pointed out on Twitter tonight, one of the most ardent members of the Never Trump crowd, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, just saw his home state back Trump. He's criticized Trump for dividing the country, and has spent time "trolling" the presumptive nominee on Twitter. Last week, in an open letter, the freshman senator floated drafting "an honest leader" to take on Trump and Hillary Clinton in the primary. Two bullets from his long missive:

Imagine if we had a candidate:

...who hadn’t spent his/her life in politics either buying politicians or being bought

…who didn’t want to stitch together a coalition based on anger but wanted to take a whole nation forward

Sasse hasn't said anything publicly yet about tonight's results. But given his occasional chattiness on Twitter, a comment is probably coming soon.

CNN declares that Bernie Sanders has won the West Virginia Democratic primary. Sanders will be speaking in Salem, Oregon later in the evening.

Shortly after the polls closed in the Nebraska Republican Primary, CNN announced that Donald Trump is the projected winner of the state contest. Trump of course is now the presumptive GOP nominee, but there was still a bit of eleventh-hour intrigue over the Nebraska race, despite the relative lack of competition. Ted Cruz, who recently dropped out of the presidential race, suggested that he might be open to jumping back into the fray if Nebraska voters turned out in droves to support him. "Well, I am not holding my breath. My assumption is that will not happen," Cruz said in an interview with Glenn Beck. He went on to add: "But listen, let's be very clear if there is a path to victory, we launched this campaign intending to win. The reason we suspended the race last week is with Indiana's loss, I didn't see a viable path to victory. If that changes, we will certainly respond accordingly."

It’s too early to say how Cruz will react to the Nebraska results, but it doesn’t look like voters in the state delivered the kind of upset he might need to be convinced that he still has a viable path to victory.

Priscilla mentioned earlier that West Virginia is an open primary state, meaning Independents can cast ballots. That's not so in Nebraska, where polls close in just a few minutes. In a presidential primary, Independents aren't allowed to weigh in on White House candidates. They're only allowed to vote in nonpartisan primary races, which in Nebraska include state legislature contests; and in federal races for the House and Senate, but only if they declare a "party preference" before voting. The rules confused at least one Independent Nebraskan, who told the AP that she's frustrated. "Nebraska's system is entirely too difficult," she said. "I could only vote on one race, for Congress. I gave them an earful about it, too." She's probably not the only one who feels that way today; after a primary cycle's worth of voting snafus and outrage over complicated voter-access laws, many Americans have echoed her dissatisfaction.

Though NBC News projected that Sanders would be the winner of the West Virginia primary earlier in the evening, CNN still hasn’t called the race. For now, CNN shows the Democratic rivals locked in an extremely tight race. Sanders has roughly 48 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 42 percent with roughly 17 percent tallied.

Team Sanders, however, isn’t waiting around to declare victory. Sanders already sent out an email to supporters announcing: “We just won West Virginia!” The email, unsurprisingly, asks for donations. It also focuses squarely on Donald Trump, making no mention of Clinton. “Every vote we earn and every delegate we secure sends an unmistakable message about the values we share, the country's support for the ideas of our campaign, and a rejection of Donald Trump and his values,” Sanders declared in the email.

The West Virginia primary looked tough for Hillary Clinton coming into the state’s contest, particularly after her remarks in March that she would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” But her campaign perhaps hoped that she could at the very least garner support among the state’s older electorate, as she has in past primaries. According to CNN’s exit poll results, however, 50 percent of voters 65 and older—who in the put their weight behind Clinton—backed Sanders, compared to Clinton’s 46 percent. Instead, she held a lead among voters between 45 and 64 by only one percentage point.

One surprising result from NBC exit polls is that Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton among voters who say that the next president should pursue “less liberal policies” relative to Barack Obama. Given that Sanders runs far to Clinton’s left on a wide array of issues, it might be reasonable to conclude that perhaps West Virginia voters aren’t all that familiar with the candidate or his policy platform. Interestingly, Sanders also wins out over Clinton for voters who want “more liberal policies,” while Clinton wins among voters who want to continue the president’s current policies. The polling indicates that while West Virginia voters see Clinton as tied to Obama, they see Sanders as something different. Beyond that, however, they may not know exactly what’s different about him, and whether he would bring more or less liberal policies to the White House.

The exit polls also suggest that any results from the West Virginia primary should be taken with a grain of salt in terms of what they might mean with respect to Sanders's agenda. The senator may win the state, but that doesn't necessarily mean that coal country voters are validating his agenda, which, among many other things, calls for the United States to transition away from fossil fuels. They may simply be voting against Clinton, a political known entity.

Republican strategist Paul Manafort, who Donald Trump allegedly hired to professionalize his presidential campaign, gave a small peek tonight into what July's GOP convention will be like. In an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, he was already promising an "entertaining, but more important, informative" meeting.

The emphasis, though, seemed to be on "entertaining." Pressed by Matthews to describe how the campaign could hold viewers' attention, Manafort said Trump "understands media" because he's a "television star." He promised that Trump would deliver an "exciting" convention, and that the campaign is planning the program with the Republican National Committee.

When Matthews asked if it could include a reality show, Manafort echoed what many political observers have said this cycle—though they've usually meant it in critical terms, about Trump's regard for the election's proceedings.

"This is the ultimate reality show," he said. "It's the presidency of the United States." Manafort didn't seem to mean this in a disrespectful way; he may have just been drawing innocent parallels between competition shows like ​The Apprentice and the competitive primary race. But expect this line to be repeated over and over by partisans to show the Trump campaign is unserious.

NBC News projects that Bernie Sanders is the winner of the West Virginia Democratic primary. For Sanders, the win is something of a life raft. It won’t fundamentally change the underlying dynamic of the race since it is now mathematically impossible for the senator to win enough delegates in the remaining primary contests to secure the nomination.

But it’s still important for Sanders since it will help him rationalize staying in the race even after falling so far behind in the delegate count. The defeat is sure to sting for Hillary Clinton. She will now have to contend with another news cycle where the Sanders campaign can claim momentum at a moment when the Democratic frontrunner is working to focus her attention on Donald Trump and the general election.

Donald Trump has taken West Virginia tonight, and will almost certainly do the same come November. A recent survey from the progressive firm PPP found Trump leading Clinton in the state, 57 to 30, in a general election matchup. Despite Sanders’s strong performance today, the same poll showed Trump trouncing him 56 to 35.

There are strong regional patterns to Trump’s support—he’s done particularly well in Appalachia, and in early polling, appears to match up well against Clinton in the general election there, too. As I’ve argued before, there’s a strong cultural component to this. Trump’s rhetoric resonates in a region first settled by Borderers—hailing from northern England, southern Scotland, and northern Ireland. Racial resentment plays a role in this, but it also reflects other views:

Trump’s policies match the preferences of his core supporters better than those of either political party. He styles himself their defender, championing social-insurance programs while attacking social-welfare spending. He promises enormous investments in infrastructure, protectionist policies to revive industry, and tight immigration controls to reduce competition for jobs.

There are voters in every region of the country who gravitate to this constellation of priorities. They tend to identify their ethnicity simply as “American.” And wherever they reside, they’ve been disproportionately drawn to Trump. But these preferences enjoy a distinctly regional popularity. The southern highlands remain distinct from other regions by most measures—from education, to health, to civic vitality—and in their politics.

It may well be the case that the same factors that fuel strong support for Trump in West Virginia will limit his national appeal. But even if they do, the support he enjoys there is a potent reminder of the depth of the divisions in contemporary American politics. Exit polls found West Virginians worried about the economy, angry about trade deals, dissatisfied with the federal government—and excited about the prospect of a Trump presidency.

Bernie Sanders is the early leader in the Democratic primary race in West Virginia based on exit polls, according to CNN. On the Republican side, CNN projects that Donald Trump has won the state. That’s hardly a surprise considering that Trump is the last man standing in the Republican field. Democratic primary voters are expected to deliver a win for Bernie Sanders tonight, but so far CNN hasn’t announced a victor. If Sanders wins tonight he will be able to claim that he’s still winning states after defeating Clinton in Indiana last week.

We’re just about 10 minutes away from polls closing in West Virginia. Bernie Sanders is expected to do well in the state. Among those reasons is it’s a mostly white state and it hosts an open primary, which means independent voters can cast their ballots in either race.  According to ABC’s exit-poll results, independents make up a third of voters, more than the average.

That’s among those who voted today. The secretary of state’s office said nearly 95,000 cast early votes. In the first week of voting, the number of residents that came out far exceeded early voting turnout from past elections.

In an election dominated by concern about the economy, jobs are not just an issue in West Virginia—for most voters, they appear to be the only issue, according to early ABC News exit polls. Two-thirds of Democratic voters say they're worried about the direction of the U.S. economy; in most states, only 40 percent of Democrats are concerned. That level of angst is closer to what Republicans have reported in other contests, and could be a sign of Trump's appeal among West Virginia Democrats and independents. Indeed, a third of Democratic voters say they'd vote for the New York billionaire over Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

In many states, Clinton's close relationship with Barack Obama has been an asset. In West Virginia, where many residents take a dim view of the president's executive orders on coal, it's a liability. Just a quarter of Democrats there want the next president to continue Obama's policies. Tellingly, nearly one in three voters said they live in a household with a coal worker.

Starting last summer, with a New Yorker piece by Evan Osnos, the connections between Donald Trump and white supremacists have been a topic of political conversation. The discussion has been urged on by Trump’s own appeals to racism, as well as the backing of figures like former KKK leader David Duke—and Trump’s unwillingness to unequivocally condemn them.

But now there’s a direct link between the Trump campaign and a white supremacist. Mother Jones's Josh Harkinson points out that William Johnson applied to be, and was accepted as, a Trump delegate in California. (He joins a slate that includes everyone from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to PayPal founder Peter Thiel.) Johnson is also the leader of the American Freedom Party, which the Southern Poverty Law Center says may be the most important single white nationalist group in the United States. Interestingly, Johnson was selected despite the Trump campaign returning a donation from him earlier this year and disavowing robocalls on the candidate’s behalf.

"I just hope to show how I can be mainstream and have these views," Johnson told Harkinson. "I can be a white nationalist and be a strong supporter of Donald Trump and be a good example to everybody." It’s hard to disagree that the Trump campaign has helped to bring white nationalism into the mainstream.

In a statement, the Trump campaign blamed a “database error” for Johnson’s selection. Johnson told Mother Jones that, if asked to do so by the campaign, he’d resign.

Donald Trump is understandably looking past West Virginia and Nebraska now that his rivals have dropped out. Two of his biggest tasks are convention-planning and picking a vice president. It’s looking more and more like those two things will be linked.

Trump has repeatedly complained that the 2012 Republican National Convention was “boring” and has promised to spice things up in Cleveland this July. On Tuesday, he made clear to the Associated Press that he does not plan to announce his running mate before the convention starts. “I do think I don’t want to make a decision until the actual convention. Not even before it. I mean until it,” he said. It’s easy to guess where this might be going. Few things would add more excitement to the coronation of a reality-star-turned-GOP-nominee than the dramatic reveal of a vice presidential nominee on the convention stage.

This is fun: The Associated Press has compiled brief interviews with voters in Nebraska and West Virginia into one handy story. The voters range in age, from 18 to 81, and occupation, from student (the 18-year-old) to writer to retiree (the 81-year-old, plus a few others).

A few gems:
-A 31-year-old West Virginia Democrat is backing Hillary Clinton because she’s more of a realist. Says the AP: “He said Bernie Sanders is almost trying to make everything like the ‘Garden of Eden.’”
-A 47-year-old Nebraska voter, who cast his ballot for Ted Cruz, had some tough words for Donald Trump: “He’s a megalomaniac, and I’m absolutely astonished he's made it to this point.”
-A 68-year-old West Virginia socialist voted for Clinton, even though he’s donated to Bernie Sanders. In the voter’s own words: “I’ve known about her for 30 years just like everybody else has. I don't think there will be any surprises.”
Read more from these voters, and others, here.

Marco Rubio insisted he would support the Republican presidential nominee during an interview with CNN on Tuesday, but sounded entirely unenthusiastic about the prospect of throwing his weight behind Donald Trump.

“I have signed a pledge that said I’d support the Republican nominee, and I intend to continue to do that,” Rubio said when asked by Jake Tapper if his reservations about Trump’s candidacy preclude him from endorsing the candidate right now. “I have well defined differences with the presumptive nominee of the Republican party ... I intend to live up to the pledge that we made, but that said, these concerns that I have about policy, they remain and they’re there.”

Rubio’s remarks, made in his first nationally televised interview since dropping out of the White House race, were reminiscent of the stand recently taken by House Speaker Paul Ryan when he said he is “not ready” to support Trump, though he hopes to soon. On a similar note, Rubio insisted he would eventually support Trump, all the while signaling that his feelings are tepid. The former GOP presidential hopeful insisted, however, that he won’t play the role of critic as the election unfolds, and said that Trump doesn’t “need to change his positions in order to get my support.”

When asked whether he would vote for Trump, Rubio indicated he would. He added, however, that he may not attend the Republican convention. Of course, if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t have anything to do with Trump. No way.

“I haven’t made that decision yet, but it wouldn’t be because of Donald Trump or in spite of Donald Trump,” Rubio said, adding that he is “open to going.” Rubio seems to be among the Republicans who feel torn by an impossible choice between Trump, on the one hand, and Hillary Clinton on the other.

The interwebs are abuzz with news from Public Policy Polling that most people prefer lice to Donald Trump. Of course, the same study shows that an even larger majority of people also believe Barack Obama is a Muslim who was born abroad. (And, just for fun: 24 percent of those surveyed think Antonin Scalia was murdered, and 5 percent think Ted Cruz really is the Zodiac killer.)

Perhaps tellingly, the poll did not ask respondents if they preferred Hillary Clinton to lice or not. And the exclusive focus on Trump, vis-à-vis lice, obscures the other news in the poll. Despite having the highest unfavorable indices of a presidential candidate, well, ever, 72 percent of Republicans are “comfortable with Trump as their nominee” and 21 percent are not. That is comparable to Clinton: 75 percent of Democrats are “comfortable with Clinton as their nominee” and—as with Trump—21 percent are not. Republican voters are comfortable with a man liked less than lice as a nominee; thus, in terms of his candidacy, the Trump-lice issue is not apparently decisive.

So while the left and the Never Trumpers giggle at the man-baby billionaire losing a popularity contest to freaking lice, a very real and very close presidential race is nonetheless underway.

Both President Obama and Vice President Biden have stayed steadfastly neutral in the Democratic primary race, even as they’ve occasionally offered some analysis from the White House. But on Tuesday, Biden finally tipped his hand in an interview with ABC News, telling Robin Roberts he was “confident” Clinton would both be the Democratic nominee and the next president. ABC only released a snippet of a longer interview set to air on Biden’s cancer “moonshot,” and when Roberts broached the question of who the next president will be, he interjected playfully, “who she is.” Obama made a similar joke recently at the White House Correspondents Dinner, but the vice president made clear he was serious. “I feel confident Hillary will be the nominee, and I feel confident she’ll be the next president,” he said.

To a large extent, Biden’s comment on the nomination race is an acknowledgement of simple math, but coming on a day when Clinton could lose a primary contest, it sends a signal to Democrats that the time to unify the party is drawing near.

Steve Helber / AP

In a rally last Thursday, Donald Trump made a suggestion you rarely hear from a presidential candidate, even one who’s got the nomination sewn up. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

Twice during his 45-minute speech, Trump urged the audience not to vote in next week’s primary elections, instead telling them to “save your vote” for the fall.

“You don’t have to vote anymore, save your vote for the general election, forget this one, the primary’s done,” said Trump, who essentially clinched the Republican nomination this week.

He circled back to his advice 20 minutes later: “Now I can tell you, stay home but get twice as many people in November.”

Most candidates—whose success depends on a citizens becoming sufficiently habituated to the inconvenience of driving to a church basement and pulling a lever that they do it not once but twice a year—encourage even their competitors’ supporters to vote their conscience. Trump’s civics teacher is surely wringing her hands in dismay.

Alas, a good portion of his supporters have likely disobeyed: Nine percent of West Virginia’s registered voters cast ballots early, according to the state.

Is the GOP’s reunification imminent? Probably not, but Donald Trump is sounding a whole lot more cooperative today than he has recently. He’s scheduled to liaise with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other members this week, at Ryan’s request. He and Ryan were at odds last week when the speaker told CNN he wasn’t ready to support Trump. Now, the businessman is sounding positive about the meeting:

Trump’s tweets don’t age well. He’s been known to change his mind on all manner of topics. But it’s not impossible that he’s being honest when it comes to this confab—even if his honesty is born of self-interest. He has repeatedly said he wants to unify the party, and perhaps this is his first step to making that happen. As I wrote earlier today, if Ryan stays on as GOP convention chairman, he’ll have a hard time not discussing the nominee at the party’s meeting. If Trump wants Ryan to support him, even half-heartedly, Thursday could be important. The speaker suggested yesterday that he wants to “get to know” Trump before making his decision on whether to support him.

One important test for the U.S. presidential candidates as they compete in West Virginia Tuesday: Can they pronounce “Appalachia” correctly?

Theoretically, there are two ways to pronounce the name of the mountainous region: “App-a-lay-sha” and “App-a-lahh-cha.” Theoretically, that is, in the same way that it would theoretically be correct if someone were to pronounce the name of this storied publication as “The Ate-lan-tic” or my name as “Eee-mah Green.”

The North Carolina novelist Sharyn McCrumb sums it up well:

“App-a-lay-sha” is the pronunciation of condescension, the pronunciation of the imperialists, the pronunciation of people who do not want to be associated with the place. “App-a-lahh-cha” means you are on the side that we trust.

The robot pronunciation guide on Merriam Webster: fail.

This guy on YouTube: success.

Hillary Clinton: nailed it, at least during this one speech in Athens, Ohio, this month.

Recordings of Sanders and Trump still to come. West Virginia voters will see whether the men are “on the side that [they] trust.”

On Tuesday, Ted Cruz floated the idea of unsuspending his campaign when asked on The Glenn Beck Program about the possibility of Nebraska choosing him on Tuesday. “We launched this campaign intending to win. The reason we suspended our campaign was that with the Indiana loss, I felt there was no path to victory,” Cruz said, adding that “If that changes, we will certainly respond accordingly.”

So what is Cruz up to?

The Texas senator, who bowed out of the race last week, could jump back into the race, but it’s unclear why he would do that. He’s substantially behind Donald Trump, who is now the presumptive Republican nominee, in his delegate count. According to the AP, Trump only needs 169 delegates to win the nomination. Perhaps Cruz is feeling that he exited the race too early after his loss in Indiana, especially after John Kasich also decided to drop. Or perhaps the recent backlash from Republicans and conservatives against Trump has offered a glimmer of hope for Cruz.

It’s anybody’s guess what lies ahead for Cruz. For the time being, though, it appears Trump won’t be getting his support. Cruz has offered only elliptical advice to voters about who to choose on election day, noting that the convention is still months away.

Will women vote for Donald Trump? In March, a CNN/ ORC poll found 73 percent of female voters “had a negative view of Trump.” And while Trump led his rivals in Indiana last week among women, with 47 percent backing him, it still came short of the number of men that support him at 59 percent. It’s ground that Trump’s campaign will have to make up as it looks toward to the general election.

Trump has targeted Hillary Clinton, accusing her of playing the “woman card.” “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card,” he said in April. As David noted then, those remarks could come back to haunt him down the line. His remarks on women have already served as fodder for a spot released this week by a pro-Clinton super PAC.

To be sure, there are women who view Trump favorably and are working to rally support behind him. But it’ll be worth watching if that support shows in West Virginia and Nebraska.

Clinton has struggled to distinguish herself in Appalachia. Though the region geologically stretches from Maine all the way to Georgia, Clinton’s domination of the deep South means the political boundary probably begins somewhere on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. Sanders has put up a tough fight along the mountain chain, winning the western edge of North Carolina and almost the entirety of central Pennsylvania. But Clinton’s been no slouch. She arguably played him to a draw in east Tennessee and southwest Virginia, as well as the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

West Virginia is the only state that lies entirely within the Appalachian region. To look at its place in a general election that could hinge on disaffected whites and the economically dislocated: It’s the most mining-dependent state in the eastern United States and has some of the highest rates of white poverty. The Mountain State’s vote today (and Kentucky’s, which takes place on May 17) will settle the question of which Democrat Appalachians prefer. If Clinton loses badly here but wins the nomination, this region might very well vote Trump in November.

Starting this year, state Supreme Court justices in West Virginia will be elected on a nonpartisan basis, including for one seat up for grabs today. In previous elections, judicial candidates were affiliated with a political party, and the court prior to today was comprised of three Democrats and two Republicans. A handful of states have partisan Supreme Court elections.

Removing partisanship from an election is easier said than done, if not impossible. The justice running for reelection today, against four opponents, campaigned previously as a Republican. The editor of the legal journal The West Virginia Record described the dilemma this way, ticking off the names of several candidates:

Everyone knows Darrell McGraw is a Democrat. Everyone knows Beth Walker and Brent Benjamin ran as Republicans and Bill Wooton was a Democrat. All you have to do is go back and Google it.

Outside organizations, including the Republican State Leadership Committee, have spent millions in advertising on the race. The Associated Press reported Monday that an ad from the state Chamber of Commerce highlighted “federal issues that have little to do” with West Virginia’s high court—President Obama's own “liberal” and “lawless” judicial candidates, and Hillary Clinton's controversial remark about coal miners. “If there was any mystery about [frontrunners’] political parties, outside groups have helped lift that veil,” the AP notes.

And at least one official is hoping voters keep partisan politics in mind when they head to their polling place. “After you’ve passed the convention delegates section, keep going and voting in the non-partisan judicial races, and keep voting for known conservatives,” West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas told MetroNews. “It’s essential that Republicans vote for these non-partisan races, particularly the Supreme Court race to continue the pro-business momentum that our party’s brought to West Virginia.”

A somewhat surprising dynamic is playing out in West Virginia. The state fits a demographic profile that has favored Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary race given its large share of white voters. But this is coal country, and Sanders has staked out a reputation as one of the most progressive environmentalists in American politics. In his climate-change platform, Sanders calls on the U.S. to “act boldly to move our energy system away from fossil fuels.” On the surface, that might seem like an alienating stand in a state where fossil fuels have long played a key role in the local economy. But polls show Sanders ahead of Hillary Clinton.

Sanders and Clinton have both put forward plans aimed at revitalizing communities hard hit by a loss of coal jobs. But in the end, voters may be swayed more by perception than policy. Clinton has faced a hostile reception in the state following her comments that “we are going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” a statement she has since said was taken out of context. Sanders and his populist message of tackling economic inequality has gained more traction. If the Vermont senator wins the Democratic primary, it might be because his political image was more appealing to voters than Clinton’s. Even if that is the case, a victory for Sanders would also show that Democratic candidates can put forward aggressive plans to scale back fossil-fuel production and still win votes in coal country.

This isn't the first time West Virginia has offered some hope to a Democratic underdog. Fifty-six years ago, John F. Kennedy came to the Mountain State in the middle of a vicious race for his party's nomination. He was facing opposition from the Minnesota Democrat Hubert Humphrey, and Kennedy's Catholicism had become a central controversy in the contest. Without the support of white, rural, mostly Protestant West Virginia, the 1960 Democratic convention would be contested, and the nomination would likely be determined by party bosses.

West Virginia awarded Kennedy a decisive victory. Just as there weren't many Catholics in the state five and a half decades ago, there aren't many Jews who live there now—2,300, according to The Forward, or roughly 0.1 percent of the population. But as Priscilla noted, it looks like the state's Democrats will be giving their votes to a Jewish candidate on Tuesday.


Bernie Sanders may win another victory in West Virginia on Tuesday despite Hillary Clinton’s efforts to replicate her success in the state eight years ago against then-Senator Barack Obama.