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U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) 18th annual gala dinner in Washington May 8, 2012. (YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS)
U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) 18th annual gala dinner in Washington May 8, 2012. (YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS)

Federal prisoner gives Obama a run for his money in West Virginia primary Add to ...

President Barack Obama lost the state of West Virginia in the 2008 presidential election to Senator John McCain, and in the state primary of that year he was handily beaten by rival Hillary Clinton.

No one is holding their breath over Mr. Obama’s 2012 chances of carrying the Appalachian state.

So, in the West Virginia Democratic primary last night, you would think – with the absence of any real challenger – Mr. Obama’s win would be a non-story.

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Except there was a challenger.

“More than 40 per cent of Democrats voting chose to cast their ballot for Keith Russell Judd, an inmate at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution in Beaumont, Texas, where he’s doing time for extortion and threats made at the University of New Mexico in 1999,” writes Jake Tapper, ABC’s White House correspondent.

According to unofficial results, Mr. Judd received 42 per cent of the vote, or about 50,000 votes compared with President Obama, who received about 58 per cent of the vote, which is just over 67,000 votes.

So, three questions: how did the inmate get on the ballot? And why did so many vote against Mr. Obama? And will Mr. Judd get any delegates at the Democratic party convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, later this year?

Mr. Judd paid the $2,500 fee and filed his forms – as simple as that.

And as for the voters: “I voted against Obama,” Ronnie Brown, a 43-year-old electrician, told AP. Mr. Brown described himself as a conservative Democrat. “I don’t like him. He didn’t carry the state before, and I’m not going to let him carry it again.” So, instead, Mr. Brown voted for the “guy out of Texas.”

On the delegates front, it appears that Mr. Judd has crossed the threshold to be awarded delegates but is unlikely to get any because no one, so far, has signed up to be a delegate for the Texas felon, according to a state official quoted by Associated Press. That may change.

As POLITICO senior political writer Maggie Haberman points out, race is likely an issue – as it was in the 2008 presidential election, when Democrats blamed Mr. Obama’s poor showing in West Virginia to the reluctance of registered Democrats to vote for a black candidate.

“A number of Democrats are citing those factors this morning as to why federal prisoner Keith Judd won some counties over Obama...” she writes.

“It is clearly not a pro-Judd vote (he has tried running elsewhere before), but an anti-Obama one. It’s difficult to extrapolate from a specific state how much race will be a factor for Obama this cycle in other areas dense with white working-class voters, but it seems to remain in play in West Virginia.”

Quirks of the West Virginia primary contest aside, here are some key developments from other primaries and ballots last night: Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose senate career spanned 36 years, was beaten in a Republican primary by a candidate backed by the Tea Party – a reminder that the movement that made massive gains in the 2010 midterm elections is still a force.

Voters in North Carolina decided on the issue of gay marriage by overwhelmingly voting against it. The hot-button issue will re-surface this week after Vice-President Joe Biden’s comments on Sunday morning TV that he supported gay marriage – a position in contrast to Mr. Obama, who has said his views on the issue are “evolving.” The president is likely to discuss his evolving position in a sit-down interview this afternoon with ABC.

But will Mr. Obama’s position evolve in to full support for gay marriage before November? Not likely, according to one observer.

And a last word on Mitt Romney: the presumptive nominee won the three primaries last night in Indiana, North Carolina and West Virginia. Although his nearly 52,000 votes in West Virginia is (oddly) lower than the number of votes Mr. Obama got in the same state in the Democratic primary. And in North Carolina, Mr. Romney won 66 per cent of the Republican vote – an outcome that has some questioning whether the conservative vote has, in fact, coalesced around the presumptive nominee. His delegates total, according to Associated Press, is 919. His goal: 1,144.

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