Barack Obama is in hot pursuit of general election voters, hoping America won't notice he got his head handed to him in West Virginia.
The Illinois senator virtually pretended the primary didn't happen Tuesday, with no election night speech or any public appearance at all after the polls closed and gave Hillary Rodham Clinton a more than 2-1 victory even though her candidacy is likely doomed.
At Obama's Chicago headquarters, advisers said there was no reason to worry — West Virginia was demographically suited to Clinton and won't be part of their general election plans. It's also true that Clinton's win is unlikely to slow his march toward the nomination — Obama picked up 30 superdelegates this week, more than the 28 total pledged delegates up for grabs in West Virginia.
But maybe the Obama camp should be more worried. The voters who went against Obama Tuesday night — white, rural, older, low-income and without college degrees — don't just live in West Virginia. They live everywhere in the country, in places Obama needs to win.
They live in places like Macomb County, Mich., where Obama planned to start his day Wednesday by dropping by a Chrysler plant. That's a recognition that he has work to do to win over working class voters even if his campaign doesn't say it.
Obama's daylong visit to Michigan will be his first campaigning there since he signed onto a pledge nine months ago to boycott the state. He pulled his name from the ballot in the state's illegitimate primary, held too early for party rules.
That means many voters in the state are just starting to get to know Obama, said Bill Rustem, president of Michigan think tank Public Sector Consultants.
"There's a lot of excitement among young people and among African-Americans, which should serve him well," Rustem said. "There still are questions among older white people that I think he's going to have to try to appeal to them in some way, shape or form. I'm sure that's in part why he's coming to Michigan — to begin that process."
Obama's campaign leaders say they are confident most of these Clinton voters are Democrats first and will support Obama once the primary is over. In a memo before the polls even closed, they said conclusions cannot be drawn about the general election campaign from the results of the Democratic primaries and pointed out that head-to-head polls between Obama and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain show Obama is running as well as past Democratic candidates among white voters.
"These people are Democrats," said Democratic consultant Steve McMahon, who is not working for either candidate. "They will come home."
Clinton's advisers said she planned to use her big victory to try to persuade uncommitted superdelegates during a meeting at her home Wednesday that she would be the strongest nominee in the general election.
"It is a fact that no Democrat has won the White House since 1916 without winning West Virginia," Clinton said in her victory speech. "The bottom line is this: The White House is won in the swing states, and I am winning the swing states."
The Obama campaign also said in its memo that Clinton also will likely win handily next week in Kentucky. His saving grace is that Oregon votes on the same day and is likely to give Obama a big win to balance it out. A double shellacking for Obama would have had him limping to the nomination.