Barack Obama is widely expected to lose the West Virginia primary Tuesday, but it would have been hard to tell that from the excited supporters who came to see him speak today at the Charleston Civic Center.
Shrugging off talk about a big win in West Virginia for Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama supporters argued that expectations are such that even a close defeat for their candidate would be the equivalent of a win.
"I'm hoping we can make this margin much closer than CNN is saying," Faith Moss of St. Albans said. "Although it would be wonderful to see him win."
Moss' mother, Norita Harris of Dunbar, said the expectations for a huge Clinton victory are such that anything other than a blowout will be a win for Obama.
"Even if it's close, we'll be happy," she said.
A poll taken over the weekend by Suffolk University found Clinton leading Obama among likely Democratic voters 60 percent to 24 percent.
The poll also showed that 40 percent of voters plan to vote for the eventual Democratic nominee regardless of who it is, while 23 percent said they'd consider voting for Republican John McCain if their preferred candidate doesn't win.
The Obama campaign gave away about 1,000 tickets for the speech at the civic center, which is the Illinois senator's first visit to the Mountain State since two appearances in March.
Clinton has spent much more time here. Last week, she visited Shepherdstown and Charleston, and on Sunday made a swing through the state from Huntington to Grafton.
The New York senator was also in West Virginia today, speaking to crowds in Clear Fork, Logan and Fairmont. In addition, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, spent two long days in the state last week, covering hundreds of miles and making speeches at 10 stops.
"Why is the so-called 'presumptive nominee' writing off an important state that will be a key battleground in the fall?" Clinton campaign spokeswoman Jessica Santillo asked. "If Senator Obama can't compete in West Virginia in a primary, how does he plan to win it in a general election?"
The Clinton campaign is hoping that a huge turnout and major victory in West Virginia can make her competitive in the popular vote, which Obama now leads.
Obama also has a commanding lead in pledged delegates and has erased Clinton's lead among superdelegates, the party leaders who can side with any candidate.
West Virginia's primary is therefore less important than it might have been, West Virginia University political scientist Robert DiClerico said.
"Had Hillary won both Indiana and North Carolina, West Virginia would have been looked to as a potential continuation in her winning trend," he said. "But the results of the other night have been interpreted, correctly, as the final blow to her candidacy."
Clinton lost North Carolina and won Indiana by too narrow a margin to make a dent in Obama's overall lead.
Many of the voters gathering at the civic center said they like Obama because of his character and charisma, while others repeated the key campaign concept of "change" like a mantra.
"I like the fight that he brings," said Joyce Creel, who drove down from Jackson County for the speech. "I think we need change on everything from Iraq to the economy, and he brings that change."
Others, though, said they were drawn to Obama partly out of unhappiness with some aspects of Clinton's campaign, particularly a comment she made recently to USA Today:
"There was just an AP article posted that found how Senator Obama's support among working - hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how the, you know, whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me," Clinton said.
Cerita Watson of St. Albans, who was looking over some of the dozens of Obama T-shirts and hats for sale at the civic center, resented those comments.
"I've always cared for the Clintons, but after she made the remark about hardworking white people supporting her, what she was trying to do is split West Virginia," Watson said.