Most news analysts seem to share that view. For example, Beth Fouhy of the Associated Press writes:
Clinton’s West Virginia win â€” coming toward the end of the process â€” does little to alter the unforgiving political landscape she faces: only a handful of small contests left on the calendar and no indication that the superdelegates who may ultimately select the nominee have been persuaded she is the more electable candidate in the general election.
She’s not the only one. The Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote, “the primary win may have come too late to have a significant impact on the trajectory of a nomination battle in which Obama has an almost insurmountable lead in delegates.” In commenting on her victory in West Virginia, the other Roger Simon asks, “does anybody care?” (The last two quotes via RealClearPolitics.)
Given the margin of her victory, I’d care a lot if I were a Democrat. It’s not just that she won the Mountain State by forty points (or 144,000 votes), she’s also favored to win Kenucky next week, the most populous state which has yet to vote. A victory there could narrow the popular vote lead he currently enjoys, possibly even push her ahead if Florida is factored in, creating what I termed “The Democrats’ ‘Nightmare’ Popular Vote Scenario.”
Hillary won last night after the news media and many Democrats have written her off as dead and as numerous party leaders have asked her to drop out of the race. Even her campaign has said as much, “Despite being the so-called ‘presumptive nominee’ and benefiting from these advantages, Sen. Obama has been unable to close a significant gap in the polls.”
If her campaign is to be believed (and since it’s the Clintons, that’s an open question), not only did the Obama campaign outspend hers on advertising, but also had “more staff in the state, and more than double the number of offices” (Via Instapundit). That he couldn’t break 30% of the vote (indeed, barely got one-quarter of the vote) even with those resources suggests he’s going to have a tough time bringing a good number Democrats back into the fold this November while convincing wary independents to choose him over John McCain.
So, the title to this post is not just rhetorical. It’s a real question. I don’t think Hillary Clinton’s victory in the Mountain State is meaningless. Her whopping win here may not shift the political calculus for the Democrats as would have a more comfortable margin in Indiana primary last week, but consider this: what if this primary had been held the week before Indiana and North Carolina?
In that case, Hillary might have tightened the margin in North Carolina and widened it in Indiana. And we wouldn’t be talking about Obama today as the presumptive Democratic nominee.
UPDATE: After I posted this, I read something published before I had and offering a thesis sort of similar to my own:
Barack Obama is lucky, damn lucky, that he convinced the punditocracy of his inevitability last week. If he had lost Indiana by a landslide and North Carolina by a little, West Virginia’s primary would be getting more attention than it is.