It's all about expectations again as Hillary Clinton's camp tries to argue that a sizable win today in West Virginia should give pause to Democrats about Barack Obama's electability in the fall.
Barack Obama, citing one overzealous Clinton backer, said Monday in West Virginia -- before hightailing it for the November swing state of Missouri -- that he could lose as badly as 80 percent to 20 percent, trying to dramatically raise the bar.
The Clinton camp is seeking to lower the threshold. "I think Democrats across the country tomorrow will be asking themselves why Senator Obama -- with all of his money, with all of the great press, with voters being told he was the inevitable nominee -- why did Senator Obama lose West Virginia by 15 points or so? What does it say about his candidacy at this date that he can't beat Senator Clinton in a key swing state?" Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said on NBC's "Today" this morning.
The polls suggest that Clinton could win the state -- full of the kinds of voters who have been backing her during the primaries -- by 30 percentage points or more. It's likely that the TV networks will project Clinton the winner soon -- if not immediately -- after the polls close at 7:30 tonight. But the margin of victory won't become clear for hours.
UPDATE: But the Clinton campaign just issued a memo trying to ratchet up the importance of the expected victory:
"With a record turnout expected in today’s primary, West Virginia Democrats will make clear who they believe is the strongest candidate to take on Sen. McCain in the Fall," the memo says, going on to note the state's presidential election history.
"The Mountain State is used to picking winners. Every nominee has carried the state’s primary since 1976, and no Democrat has won the White House without winning West Virginia since 1916. Democrats carried West Virginia in 1992 and 1996, but lost the state—and the White House--in 2000 and 2004. Hillary has predicted victory against Sen. McCain in West Virginia based on the strength of her economic message."
The memo continues: "Given the attempts by our opponent and some in the media to declare this race over, any significant increase in voter turnout, coupled with a decisive Clinton victory, would send a strong message that Democrats remain excited and energized by Hillary’s candidacy. In the face of grim poll numbers, the Obama campaign has attempted to dismiss today’s outcome despite the fact that Sen. Obama has outspent us on advertising, has more staff in the state, and more than double the number of offices.
"He has also benefited from the support of the most high-profile endorsers in West Virginia -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Congressman Nick Rahall. By every measure, the Obama campaign has waged an aggressive campaign in the Mountain State. 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. Sen. Clinton has already won Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan. With a win in West Virginia, Sen. Clinton will have once again proven her greater ability to win in the key swing states."
UPDATE: Barack Obama's campaign responded with a memo of its own this afternoon, trying to frame the expected results in West Virginia.
"There is no question that Senator Clinton is going to win by huge margins in the upcoming primaries in West Virginia today and Kentucky next weeks. She has poured resources into both states and she, former President Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton have all campaigned extraordinarily hard there. And in keeping large margins in perspective, it is worth noting that, while Senator Clinton will win big in West Virginia, Barack Obama won neighboring Virginia by 29 points.
"But with 49 contests behind us and only six to go -- including several states where we expect to do well -- Barack Obama leads in pledged delegates, contests won, and superdelegates. And for perspective, while 28 pledged delegates are up for grabs this evening, Obama has won the support of 27 superdelegates in the course of just the last week putting him less than 150 total delegates away from clinching the Democratic nomination."
The memo also seeks to rebut Clinton's arguments on electability in November.
"Nationally, Obama is running stronger among Independent voters than any winning Presidential candidate since 1988 and is significantly outperforming Sen. Clinton among these voters as well in general election polling," the memo says. "To understand a potential general election match-up between Obama and McCain, the only analysis and data that should be considered valid are the current head-to-head National polls rather than extrapolating irrelevant assumptions from exit poll data in Democratic primaries."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.