Salena Zito

Perhaps if you had been in an isolation chamber since the day before Sen. Hillary Clinton's first loss in Iowa, you would think that the poll for tomorrow's contest in West Virginia made sense. Until that moment she was inevitable.

Now, not so much.

Still the numbers are the numbers and here is what they say about Tuesday's West Virginia primary and next week's contest in Kentucky:

Suffolk is giving her a 36-point lead over Barack Obama in West Virginia (poll was in the field May 10-11):

• Clinton 60

• Obama 24

• Undecided 8

She appears to have a similarly commanding lead in neighboring Kentucky. A Research 2000 poll (in the field May 7-9) has her up by 27 points.

• Clinton 58

• Obama 31

• Undecided 11

Both polls were taken after the press and pundits wrote, sang and contemplated her obituary.

So much for news media's influence on the voters in those two states.

While the death by a thousand pin pricks keeps coming via superdelegates, who are falling over themselves to back Obama, voters in West Virginia and Kentucky are not budging from their support for Clinton.

So what do these numbers mean for the almost-but-not-quite-there Democrat nominee Sen. Barack Obama for the general election in November?

While no one wants to say it -- because apparently in this country we cannot have a reasonable discussion about race without being called a racist -- race matters.

Just look at the exit polls, in which one in five voters say so.

So is that why Obama is not campaigning in West Virginia? (No, one visit with Sen. Jay Rockefeller does not count as a barnstorming of this key state). Why the concession to Clinton without trying? Is it the downscale white voter 'thing'?

As one high ranking Democratic strategist said privately Obama is only there for one campaign event because he knows she's way ahead and is going to win, and doesn't want to legitimize her victory by making it look like it was truly contested.

University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, who is 95 percent sure that Obama is the Democratic nominee, says the Illinois senator "already knows he is not going to carry West Virginia in November -- or Kentucky."

"(He) has a very different electoral path to the White House--although," Sabato cautions, "in the end, it all may come down to the usual handful of states."


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.