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Texas Inmate Rivals Obama In W.Va. Primaries


There's not much news out of presidential primaries these days, but there was one surprise yesterday in West Virginia's Democratic primary. A convicted felon serving time in a Texas prison won 41 percent of the vote to President Obama's 59 percent.

For more on this unusual candidate and what his strong second-place showing says about Democratic voters in West Virginia, I'm joined from Charleston by Associated Press reporter Lawrence Messina.

Lawrence, welcome.


BLOCK: And tell us first about Keith Judd. This is the inmate who ran against the president there in West Virginia.

MESSINA: Well, it appears that he is serving time for sending a threatening message to a university, I believe, in New Mexico. And based on past press coverage, we believe that this inmate has sought to get on the ballot as a presidential candidate both this year and in previous elections.

BLOCK: And he managed to do it there and West Virginia. When you talked to voters, did you get a sense that anybody actually knew whom they were voting for or was this just an anybody-but-Obama vote?

MESSINA: Well, I would say that based on the comments we collected, it's really very much a protest vote. I think the folks that we spoke to generally had no idea whom Mr. Judd was. They just knew that he was not the president.

BLOCK: And what's the issue? Why is there this antipathy toward President Obama reflected in this Democratic primary there in West Virginia?

MESSINA: I'd say that when we speak to - when we've spoken to voters throughout this election cycle, and throughout the president's administration, the recurring issue involves coal. The president's energy policies and the stances taken by his Environmental Protection Agency regarding mining-related permits has incurred the wrath of the coal industry generally, and certainly here in West Virginia.

BLOCK: And is this true that in one county - Mingo County, which has extensive coalfields - Keith Judd, the felon, actually got more votes than President Obama in the primary?

MESSINA: Yes. It leads the states for the votes that went to Mr. Judd. He actually prevailed over the president in 10 counties, and I'd say nearly all of them are Southern coalfields.

BLOCK: President Obama has never done very well in West Virginia, right? He was trounced by Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary. And there was some polling data at the time that suggested that voters were not comfortable with the idea of a black president in West Virginia. Did you get the sense that any of this vote against the president for Keith Judd was motivated by racism? Or was it really these economic issues that you're talking about?

MESSINA: Well, I would say that economic issues and certainly the recession has been felt here, perhaps not as deeply as elsewhere because of our coal industry and what had been a strong energy market in recent years. When we asked voters about race, it is not an issue that they leap to. I'd say that the issues that make the shortlist are coal and the economy.

BLOCK: We should point out, Lawrence, that West Virginia has primaries that are open to independent voters, right?

MESSINA: That's right. Unaffiliated voters may cast ballots in either of the major party primaries.

BLOCK: What did Keith Judd have to do to get on the ballot in West Virginia?

MESSINA: There's a filing fee - I believe it's based on a percentage of the president's salary - and a simple form to fill out. And I believe that he filed his form - I think it looks like it was mailed from the prison in Texas back in November. And he was certified as a candidate in January.

BLOCK: What's the tone in West Virginia today? I wonder if there are voters who are chagrined to discover that the person they voted for - however they may feel about the president - is, in fact, a convicted felon serving time.

MESSINA: Well, certainly voters we've spoken to, I think, were a little taken aback. But folks also point out that the issues that have led West Virginians to oppose Mr. Obama, you know, pretty much made this an anybody-but-Obama sort of proposition.

BLOCK: Lawrence Messina with the Associated Press, talking about the Democratic primary result yesterday in West Virginia, where convicted felon Keith Judd got 41 percent of the vote. President Obama got 59 percent.

Lawrence, thanks so much.

MESSINA: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.