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Romney handily carries West Virginia

For the fourth consecutive election, West Virginians backed a Republican for president.

It was an easy and expected win here -- the race was called at poll closing based on exit poll data, and Election Night's unofficial totals confirmed that Romney handily scored West Virginia's five electoral votes. Obama didn't win a single county in the state.

Obama fared even worse here than he did four years ago, losing to Romney by more than 25 percentage points -- that's a margin nearly twice the size of the one between Obama and John McCain in 2008.

West Virginia hasn't voted for a Democratic president since Bill Clinton won the state in 1996. That trend is despite the abundance of Democrats holding state and local offices here and the fact that most West Virginians are registered as Democrats.

And Obama himself has hardly been a favorite in West Virginia. His approval ratings in the state have consistently been some of his lowest in the nation, and he's never won an election here.

"A West Virginia Democrat and a national Democrat are two different things," said Neil Berch, an associate professor at West Virginia University and an expert on state and local politics. "Certainly we were expecting Obama to lose here, and his margins have been narrower all over the country than four years ago."

In this year's Democratic primary, more than 40 percent of West Virginians voted for a man in a Texas prison instead of Obama. That inmate, Keith Judd, garnered votes from more than 70,000 Democrats and won the majority of votes in nine counties.

In 2008, Obama lost to John McCain by more than 13 percentage points. And in the Democratic primary that year, Hillary Clinton won West Virginia's vote by more than 40 points.

Both Democrats and Republicans have spent the campaign trying to distance themselves from the president, with a string of negative campaign ads and aspersions rooted in Obama's so-called "war on coal."

Now, as ever, the challenge for state Democrats is to appeal to a Democratic electorate that still flatly disapproves of Obama.

Berch expects West Virginia politicians will try to "walk the same fine line they've been trying to navigate for the past few years."

Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who distanced himself from Obama during election season, addressed supporters in Fairmont before the presidential results were in.

He said the new president's top priority should be healing the bitter partisan divide that's developed in the country over the past few years.

"Whoever the president will be at the end of this recommendation would be this: that that president would start what I call a presidential healing tour," Manchin said.

He said the president should go state-by-state to bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats across the country.

Manchin said the president could learn a lot from the way West Virginia's leaders worked together over the past decade to get the state's financial house in order.  "I would invite the president to come to West Virginia first to see how we do it," Manchin said.


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