- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2008

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III says he is tired of the “stereotyping” of his state’s voters as uneducated, adding that Sen. Barack Obama can win the state in the fall if he takes the time to ask people for their support.

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Mr. Obama resoundingly lost the state’s primary earlier this month, Mr. Manchin told The Washington Times. “They might not have all the diplomas hanging on the wall, but they have a Ph.D. in life.”

Mr. Manchin, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, remains neutral in the Democratic primary battle between Mr. Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

He told The Times that he wants to “break down all stereotypes” and prove to the nation that West Virginians are “hardworking, honest people.” He also scoffed at critics who say Mr. Obama’s race was a factor in his defeat, pointing to the state’s prominent Japanese automotive industry.

“West Virginians accepted Japanese culture into their schools, communities, hearts and homes,” he said.

The race factor is “so far off” from the truth about why Mrs. Clinton won the May 13 primary by an overwhelming 41 points, he said.

Mr. Manchin said he thinks Mr. Obama should have spent more time in his state because West Virginians “are people that will shake your hand and read you like a book,” and they didn’t have the chance to do that with Democratic front-runner.

“They need to be comfortable with you and look into your eyes,” he said.

The senator from Illinois limited his West Virginia campaigning to a March town hall meeting, a March 20 speech on the domestic cost of the Iraq war and a veterans issues discussion on the eve of the primary.

“I know Hillary was elated, and I’m sure Barack was concerned about the outcome,” Mr. Manchin said. “But I told both of them, Hillary and President Clinton both spent an awful lot of time here and it paid off for her. I’ll guarantee you, [Mr. Obama] needs to come back and spend a little bit of time, and he’ll do well also.”

False e-mail rumors about Mr. Obama’s faith and patriotism permeated the West Virginia electorate, prompting pundits, Democratic activists and late-night comedians to label the state’s voters as backwater, racist or uneducated.

An Obama volunteer named Ellen, who grew up in West Virginia, wrote a candid assessment about her experience on the Obama campaign blog.

“I couldn’t believe my ears! And from people that I thought were almost reasonable,” she wrote, citing e-mails that falsely claim Mr. Obama refuses to salute the U.S. flag.

“You can theoretically fix ignorant, but stupid lasts forever. Maybe [it] wasn’t worth the bashing he would get from coming here,” she wrote. “Thankfully, not many delegates here. Would take a significant effort to dispel all these myths for the general election.”

Other Obama volunteers have started organizing in hopes that West Virginia can be a battleground in the fall. One state resident urged supporters on the blog this week: “We’ve got to get mobilized folks, let’s get it rolling.”

Team Obama dismissed the loss by saying Mrs. Clinton was always expected to win and the entire Clinton family “campaigned extraordinarily hard” in West Virginia.

The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, reveled in its victory and pushed its political spin that “by every measure, the Obama campaign has waged an aggressive campaign in the Mountain State” because he had high-profile endorsements and outspent the Clinton campaign on advertising. It’s also another swing-state loss for the man who is close to clinching the Democratic nomination.

“No Democrat has won the White House without winning West Virginia since 1916,” Team Clinton wrote in a memo after her victory, which was followed May 20 by another lopsided Clinton win in Kentucky.

Obama aides don’t mention West Virginia as a swing state, even though it historically has backed Democrats. Instead, they point to his 29-point win in nearby red-state Virginia and say they can flip states such as Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico.

In 2004, President Bush bested Sen. John Kerry in West Virginia 56 percent to 43 percent, but Mr. Manchin beat his Republican opponent 64 percent to 34 percent.

Mr. Manchin, 60, said he won’t take sides in the nomination fight until after the final contests in Montana and South Dakota on June 3, and disagreed with those who worry that the prolonged fight is harming the Democratic Party.

“I saw nothing but the plus side for West Virginia,” he said, citing increased voter registration.

He is one of the hundreds of elected officials and party activists known as superdelegates who can cast a vote for their preferred candidate at the summer nominating convention, but he would prefer a rule forbidding superdelegates from expressing their intentions until after the primary season ends.

“Let people get energized and excited,” he said.

Mr. Manchin said he was “very flattered” by rumors that he could be considered as a vice-presidential pick, and emphasized that he is focused on his fall re-election campaign. “I’ve got the best job in the world. We just have to see what tomorrow brings.”

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