Eight years after winning on her way toward losing the nomination, Hillary Clinton is losing on her way to winning it.
Democrats in West Virginia repeated the message that primary voters have sent with some consistency: They’re not ready to fall in line for Clinton.
That’s a message that could come back in the general election, particularly in economically battered regions and among white, working-class voters who appear particularly loath to see Clinton win the presidency.
“Every vote we earn and every delegate we secure sends an unmistakable message about the values we share,” Bernie Sanders’ campaign said Tuesday night in a statement declaring victory.
The alternate message -- that the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is effectively over -- isn’t getting through to Democratic voters. Despite an insurmountable delegate gap, Sanders coasted to victory, yet again.
The Clinton campaign is explaining the loss away by pointing out that she didn’t advertise there. The state is a tough demographic fit for her, particularly after her comments about coal-related jobs.
But like Indiana, which delivered for Sanders a week ago, West Virginia is a state Clinton actually won eight years ago, toward the end of a losing campaign for the nomination against Barack Obama.
Clinton’s struggles among core Democrats continue. Economic anxiety and frustration with the status quo drove voters to Sanders –- the alternative, at least in this state on this night, to the person they viewed as continuing Obama administration policies.
West Virginia has become redder at the presidential level in recent decades, and it is hardly representative of the nation. President Obama famously surrendered 42 percent of the primary vote in the state in his reelection year of 2012 to a competitor who was serving a prison sentence in Texas for extortion and making threats.
It’s an unusual state, but it shares characteristics with critical regions of big battlegrounds. Earlier Tuesday, polling showed tight races for Clinton against Donald Trump in Ohio, Florida, and even Pennsylvania.
According to the exit polls, slightly more than half of Democrats in West Virginia think it likely Trump would beat Clinton in November. Concerns about Clinton’s honesty and trustworthiness continue to haunt her.
Given a choice between Trump and Clinton, one third of West Virginia Democrats said they would vote Trump, and another 20 percent said they wouldn’t vote at all. The numbers for a Trump-Sanders matchup were actually not much better, making this more an indication of disenchanted Democrats than of particular disaffection for either Democratic candidate.
The question is no longer whether Clinton will be the nominee -- she will be.
But Sanders has more than earned the right to stay in the race to the end. He has been empowered, once again, by voters who are expressed frustration, anxiety, and flashes of anger, in sentiments spreading through both parties this year.