September 18th, 2020


Nine interesting numbers from the May 10 primaries

 David Weigel

By David Weigel The Washington Post

Published May 12, 2016

It was clear for weeks that West Virginia's May 10 primary would mark a nadir of Hillary Clinton's fight for the not-quite-presumptive Democratic nomination for president.

Fate had made her the accidental hero of what she termed "hardworking, white working-class Americans" in her 2008 presidential run. But fate had returned to its cruel, usual tricks, as white voters got behind the insurgent candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. In 2008, Clinton won West Virginia in a landslide against then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and she lost it in a smaller (important, in delegate terms) landslide Tuesday night.

The result may have finally snuffed out a dream born in 2008, that Clinton could fix the Democratic Party's brand in Appalachia - a dream that persisted even as 2014 candidates, such as U.S. Senate hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky, ran as "Clinton Democrats" and got crushed.

50 percent: That, according to West Virginia's exit poll, was the proportion of self-identified Democrats who backed Hillary Clinton in the primary. Forty-five percent of Democrats supported Bernie Sanders, making West Virginia the fifth primary in which Clinton won the Democratic vote but lost because independents jumped into the primary to back Sanders. In two state primaries, New Hampshire and Vermont, has Sanders won with Democrats; in one state, Wisconsin, the two candidates fought to a tie.

If Sanders loses his bid for the Democratic nomination, 2016 will almost certainly be his last attempt. (He will turn 78 years old in 2020.) But the senator and his supporters are going to make a push at the party's convention to open every primary in every state.

51 percent: That was how many of Sanders's voters in West Virginia wanted the next president to "be less liberal" than President Barack Obama - and said so by backing a democratic socialist who is running to Obama's left. Clinton supporters, struggling to explain how she could lose every county in West Virginia after winning every one in 2008, may focus on that stat, as it suggests the anti-establishment/anti-"dishonesty" protest vote is powering Sanders just as much as his economic message. (Twenty-two percent of the voters hankering for a "less liberal president" cast protest votes.)

7,126: That was how many more votes Clinton won in coal country's Logan County in 2008 than in Tuesday's primary. In the primary against Obama, Clinton won 8,617 votes, good for 84.4 percent. On Tuesday she won 1,491 votes in Logan, tumbling to 24 percent of the vote - and running behind the combined protest vote for fringe candidates.

122,770: As of the current count, that's how many fewer votes were cast in the 2016 Democratic primary, compared with the 2008 primary. That tracks with the swoon of the state's Democratic Party, which entered the Obama years in command of the governor's mansion, both houses of the legislature, and four of its five seats in Congress. Today, Democrats can boast a governor, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and most of the statewide constitutional officers. But that's it.

15,500: That was how many Democrats cast ballots in their heated primary for governor, won by billionaire coal, farming and resort magnate Jim Justice - and did not cast votes in the presidential primary. It's exceedingly rare for "undervoters" to ignore the high-profile race at the top of the ballot, and their decision to do so underscored just how cold many were on the presidential candidates.

76.9 percent: That was Donald Trump's vote total in West Virginia - his highest in any primary to date. Granted, it was his first election since Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, R, bowed to the inevitable and quit the race. But four years ago, when Mitt Romney was in a comparable position as the presumptive GOP nominee (Ron Paul was still running a token campaign), he won 69.6 percent of the West Virginia vote.

$430,000: That was how much the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent to boost Chip Maxwell, a conservative activist running against GOP favorite Don Bacon in Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District. The idea, hardly original, was to launch Maxwell into a general election against Rep. Brad Ashford, the Democrat who won the district (which covers Omaha) in one of 2014's very few silver linings. It didn't work, as Bacon triumphed by 2-1. The DCCC also stumbled in West Virginia's 2nd District, as "emerging" Democratic candidate Corey Simpson was defeated by former state representative Mark Hunt, the sort of candidate who now regularly loses elections here.

53.3 percent: That was Clinton's vote in the Nebraska primary. You might naturally ask: "What Nebraska primary?" Democrats picked their delegates in March caucuses - which Sanders won - but a "beauty contest" primary remains on the ballot when voters pick the rest of their candidates. In 2008, Clinton lost Nebraska's caucuses by a landslide but only narrowly lost the "beauty contest." This time the caucus loss was a little narrower, and Clinton's allies won (but may not use) more evidence for their case against caucuses: The 76,340 voters who turned out for a primary voted differently than the 33,460 who showed up to caucus.

32 percent: That many Republicans in Nebraska said that Trump "shared their values." Thirty-one percent said the same of Cruz, who was narrowly favored to win the state before giving up his campaign last week. It was the lowest band of support for Trump, who has argued that he simply does not need to unify every element of the party to win the presidency.

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