W. Virginia: For Hillary, Against the Media

"It's not over! It's not over!" The chant echoed through the Charleston Civic Center last night as defiant Hillary Clinton supporters urged their candidate to keep on fighting. The almost all-white crowd included a disproportionately large number of elderly women. The sparsely decorated main hall of the civic center—the barren walls made it all too obvious that Clinton's campaign is desperately low on funds—didn't matter, because the crowd kept things festive. Teenage girls wore homemade T-shirts saying "Hillary's Tag Team." A young man standing behind the podium where Clinton delivered her victory speech steadily punched an invisible opponent with red boxing gloves. A group of union members launched into a booming "Madame President" singsong.

A beaming Clinton met this show of force with some forcefulness of her own in her victory speech, pledging to "carry on this campaign until everyone has had a chance to make their voices heard." There were shouts of "We love you, Hillary!" when Clinton thanked West Virginia for "this overwhelming vote of confidence" and scattered boos when she spoke of the people "who wanted to declare a nominee before the ballots were counted or even cast." It is no coincidence that, according to the Clinton campaign, West Virginia broke turnout records yesterday even though pundits have been saying for several days now that the race is over. More than a dozen Clinton supporters interviewed by NEWSWEEK said they believe Clinton can still win, and many faulted a biased media for prematurely writing her off.

Helen Lambert, 76, said she and her husband drove to Charleston for the celebration because "it's not over until the lady in the pantsuit says it's over." Lambert said she has been a resolute supporter of the Clintons for decades. But Hillary has a special place in Lambert's heart. "She's so brilliant and so experienced," Lambert said. "She's smarter than all of those men … I just don't have any room in my brain or my heart for anybody but Hillary." Phyllis Rutledge, 76, agreed, saying, "I know she's gonna be president."

Keith Gwinn, 54, said he blames "the media hype" for prematurely ending the race. "If it is over why haven't they declared him the winner?" he said in reference to the presumptive nominee, Sen. Barack Obama. Gwinn said he is eagerly anticipating the May 31 decision of the Democratic Party's Rules and Bylaws Committee, which will decide whether and how much weight to allocate to Michigan and Florida voters. (The national party stripped both states of their delegations as punishment for holding their primaries early, a decision that may be reversed by the rules committee). Barbara Yeager, 71, went even further, saying she'd like to see Clinton take her bid all the way to Denver. Yeager said a contested convention would be a way for Clinton to defy the media and win the nomination; she believes a convention floor fight would be exciting—and wouldn't hurt the party. "The media decides [the nomination] well in advance, and that's a shame," Yeager said. "TV has given her opponent way too much free time in coverage that she did not have equal access to."

Many in the crowd were hostile toward Obama. Jeanne Kendall, a 64-year-old lifelong Democrat from Eleanor, W. Va., thinks he's arrogant and said she'll sit out in November if he's the nominee. "If Obama wanted to win in West Virginia he should have made more visits," she said. "I don't think he thinks we come up to his standards."

There was an ugly tone to some of the crowd's comments about Obama. Menina Parsons, a 45-year-old Democrat from Milton, said she will not vote if Obama becomes the nominee. She said she is concerned about his "black supremacist" preacher and worries that Obama has family ties to radical Muslims (which is not true). Parsons said that because of these alleged ties, "if Obama gets in I'm concerned that the terrorist is gonna have an easier way in. I don't think he's real. I don't think he's American." Margaret Conner, who said she is "100 percent" Democrat, said she'll vote for McCain over Obama because she is alarmed by Obama's association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and, more generally, she is suspicious of Obama's "background, his heritage." Conner said most of her Democratic friends also plan to vote Republican if Obama wins the nomination.

If Clinton's team was aware of the kind of sentiments that helped pump up their 41-point margin, they didn't let on. A jubilant Terry McAuliffe, the campaign's chairman, ran up the aisle of the campaign's charter plane en route to Washington late last night and shouted at the press, "West Virginia, baby! We are sweeping this thing!"

Clinton too seized on the momentum that her victory in tiny West Virginia gives her, trying to quash lingering media speculation that she's about to leave the race. In her victory speech she referred to states that won't vote until June, speaking of a dying woman in South Dakota who voted for her by absentee ballot from a hospice bed and an 11-year-old in Kentucky who sold his bike and videogames to raise money for her candidacy. (But the questions about her longevity continued, as some media outlets noted that a recent Clinton video sent to supporters did not mention the contests after next Tuesday's primaries, when Kentucky and Oregon will vote.)

Clinton made a direct overture to the superdelegates, the party officials and Democratic big shots now charged with deciding her fate. "It is still so close and it really does depend upon those who will vote in these next contests and those who have the awesome responsibility as delegates of our great Democratic Party," Clinton said. "I'm asking that people think hard about where we are in this election, about how we will win in November, because this is not an abstract exercise … That is why I am carrying on, and if you give me a chance, Democrats, I'll come back to West Virginia in the general election and we'll win this state and we'll win the White House." The residents of one tiny state believe her, at any rate.

W. Virginia: For Hillary, Against the Media | News