Sen. Hillary Clinton swept to victory over Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama Tuesday in West Virginia's Democratic primary, in her quest to keep her presidential hopes alive.
"Like the song says, it's almost heaven," Clinton said when she came on stage at the Charleston Civic Center to claim her victory.
The Associated Press, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News all declared Clinton the winner within seconds after the polls closed at 7:30 p.m., based on exit poll information. Polls leading up to Tuesday's vote consistently showed the New York senator with a huge lead over Obama.
"We all know from the Bible, faith can move mountains," Clinton told the jam-packed crowd of about 1,000. "My friends, the faith of the Mountain State has moved me."
Despite the win in West Virginia, most observers expect Obama to prevail for the Democratic nomination and the right to face Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain in the general election in November.
Clinton supporters saw it differently Tuesday evening.
"She will be ahead in the popular vote and within 100 delegates by the time the primaries are over," said Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton partisan and former head of the Democratic National Committee.
Democrats will then have to decide which candidate will match up best against McCain, he said.
McAuliffe said Democrats shouldn't worry about the continuing contest between Obama and Clinton fracturing the party.
"George Bush has been the greatest uniting force in the history of the Democratic Party," he said.
The former first lady, along with her husband Bill and daughter Chelsea, campaigned heavily across the state during the past week.
Obama, who virtually conceded the West Virginia primary weeks ago by saying he could not overcome Clinton's advantage, made a campaign appearance in Charleston Monday. His camp, which established 11 offices across the state, said it has worked hard to make the Illinois senator more visible to state residents in an effort to win it in the fall.
On his Monday campaign swing, Obama played down any expectations of victory, saying anything over 20 percent would be good. He is also expected to lose in neighboring Kentucky next week and has instead spent more time campaigning in Oregon, which votes later.
Clinton was projected to take more than 70 percent of the vote in the state and supporters said West Virginia had a record turnout for a Democratic primary.
With 84 percent of the precincts counted, Clinton had 206,246 votes, or 67 percent, to Obama's 80,436, or 26 percent. Sen. John Edwards, who earlier withdrew from the race, but whose name was still on the statewide ballot, had 22,113, or 7 percent.
Clinton did not criticize Obama by name during her West Virginia campaign, something party leaders had urged her not to do.
She and her supporters repeatedly told Mountain State residents that no Democrat has won the White House without carrying West Virginia since Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Her campaign said West Virginia's votes showed she would be the stronger candidate against McCain.
Early voters cast a record 76,519 votes across the state.
West Virginia's demographics fit closely with those who have supported Clinton in other states. They include mostly blue-collar, white voters. With the state's small minority population, it has caused some political pundits to say race is a major part of the West Virginia presidential campaign.
Eighteen delegates to the national convention - six from each congressional district - were up for grabs Tuesday. The delegates are awarded to candidates by a proportion of votes, so it was initially unclear how many delegates Clinton had captured.
The state also has 10 superdelegates - elected Democratic officials and party officials who can vote for any candidate they wish. Before the election, three had committed to Clinton and two to Obama.
"Tonight I need your help to continue this journey," Clinton told the Civic Center throng. "We are in the homestretch."
She asked superdelegates to give their support to her as well, although Obama has erased Clinton's once-imposing lead in superdelegates.
Neighboring Kentucky, as well as Montana, South Dakota, Oregon and Puerto Rico, have not yet held their primary elections.
To contact staff writer Tom Searls, use e-mail or call 348-5198.