By David Epstein
With her big victory in West Virginia, Hillary has reminded the punditocracy of her considerable strength in certain sections of the country. Yes, West Virginia is overwhelmingly white and Protestant, but more important than that, it's also one of the states that Democrats lost narrowly in the last election.
And this, in a nutshell, is the crux of Hillary's argument to the superdelegates. Take away all the race-related aspects of the situation for a moment and just concentrate on a simple truth: to win in November, Democrats will have to do well among the states in play; the swing states, that is -- those states that were the most evenly divided in the past two elections.
To determine which candidate is best equipped to win in the swing states, I took the primary results to date, dropped Michigan, and compared Hillary's percent of the vote vs. Obama this year against the percent won by Kerry in 2004. As the graph below shows, there is a clear trend: Clinton is strongest in the swing states, and Obama is strongest both in states that Democrats won handily last time, and in those states that they lost heavily last time.
Clinton is especially strong in the big swing states. Look, for instance, at the states which were within 3 percentage points of being split 50-50 in 2004. Twelve of these states have had their primaries to date, and Clinton has won 8 of these to Obama's 4, representing 114 electoral college votes to Obama's 36.
This is not to gainsay Obama's obvious strengths as a candidate, or his proven ability to get support from voters of all races. But it is the superdelegates' job to pick the candidate most likely to win in November, and in a race that's a virtual dead heat in the popular vote -- after the West Virginia results Obama leads 50.3% to 49.7% -- there's a strong swing state argument in favor of Clinton's getting the nod.