05/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama In Kentucky And West Virginia: Why Will He Lose?

Barack Obama is now the presumed nominee of the Democratic party. His lead in delegates, popular vote and states won cannot by broken by Sen. Clinton, save some freak occurrence. This weekend, Obama passed Clinton in the number of superdelegate endorsements, according to the Associated Press.

And yet despite his status, Obama is no match for Sen. Clinton in Kentucky and West Virginia. In the few polls that have come out over the past few weeks, Clinton has maintained a huge 30-point margin in both states. Even surveys completed after her disappointing performances in Indiana and North Carolina show an electorate entirely unfazed. And while Clinton has still proven herself popular among a large number of voters, her lead in West Virginia and Kentucky is unlike nearly any previous contest. So why is Barack Obama going to lose?

At least one pollster thinks the issue of race is defining the Kentucky primary:

"I'll be very blunt," said pollster Del Ali, president of Research 2000. "Even if there wasn't a Rev. Wright controversy, I think Obama would have a tough time in Kentucky, for obvious reasons."

The fact that 56 percent of interviewed voters said Obama's race was not important could be due to something called the Bradley effect, Ardrey said. In 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who was black, was predicted to win the governor's race by a comfortable margin but lost.

And while the issue may not be race generally, comments from Obama's former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright have made a big impression:

Among white voters, Wright's statements were important to 46 percent, compared to only 11 percent of black voters.

"Race is still the elephant in the room, and the Rev. Wright issue hits at remaining racial prejudices and fears that people here might have," said Saundra Ardrey, head of the political science department at Western Kentucky University.

Meanwhile, Obama's bitter comment seem to be affecting him more in West Virginia than they ever did in Pennsylvana:

A visit to Mingo County, a Democratic stronghold in the heart of the Appalachian coalfields, reveals the scale of Mr Obama's challenge - not only in West Virginia but in white, working-class communities across the US. With a gun shop on its main street and churches dotted throughout the town, Williamson is the kind of community evoked by Mr Obama's controversial comments last month about "bitter" small-town voters who "cling to guns or religion".

"If he is the nominee, the Democrats have no chance of winning West Virginia," said Missy Endicott, a 40- year-old school administrator. "He doesn't understand ordinary Americans."

The LA Times notes today that Clinton's dominance in West Virginia (and Kentucky) is precisely why she needs to stay in the race:

Because with her name still on the ballots, she'd be very likely to win in West Virginia anyway. And maybe Kentucky too, given the demographics in both places. And possibly Puerto Rico as well.

How would that look if at the end of the Democratic race the winning candidate with clearly the most delegates and popular votes went down to defeat against a candidate who isn't in the contest anymore? Ouch! That would tend to overshadow his expected wins in Oregon and Montana.