Why Tuesday's Democratic primaries matter

Now, no one expects West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kentucky to be a part of Obama’s coalition this fall. But lots of people are looking at Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. These states are where this primary weakness becomes potentially significant.

All four of those states have substantial populations in areas geographically and culturally similar to these “problem areas”: southwestern Pennsylvania, western Virginia and North Carolina, and southeastern Ohio. In all of these states, Obama’s path to victory is to hold down his losses in rural areas, and then maximize his vote among upscale and minority voters in urban areas.

In 2008 this strategy worked well, in large part because the financial collapse produced a large turnaround in the voting preferences of whites without college degrees. He still performed relatively poorly for a Democrat among these voters, but his margins were enough to enable him to capture these four states. If he’s facing a virtual rebellion among rural white Democrats (and presumably a similar problem with independents) this time around, his odds of capturing these four states diminish appreciably. Once again, this isn’t to say that he will necessarily lose, just that his path to re-election narrows if Romney is racking up big wins in the 11th District of North Carolina, or in the old 6th District of Ohio.