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Lessons learned from inmate's challenge to Obama in W.Va.

This image provided by Keith R. Judd shows the federal prisoner Keith Russell Judd, 49, at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution in Beaumont, Texas in this March 15, 2008 file photo.


The name of the federal prisoner -- Keith Judd -- who won 41 percent of the vote versus President Barack Obama in Tuesday's West Virginia Democratic primary isn't as important as the fact that the incumbent commander in chief won only 59 percent of the vote.

Republicans have giddily seized on Obama's relatively poor showing in the primary as an indicator of weakness. Though, it's notable that Obama has never performed particularly well in West Virginia, and he's not expected to carry the state versus Mitt Romney in the general election.

Even in a Democratic wave year, Republican John McCain beat Obama in West Virginia by a 13-point margin. And in the Democratic primary that same year, even though the race for the nomination appeared virtually over, Hillary Clinton crushed Obama, 67 percent to 26 percent.

Related: First Thoughts: The margins told the story

While West Virginia traditionally elects Democrats to statewide office, it is culturally conservative. West Virginia’s relatively poor residents rely heavily on pork projects from the government, as well as programs like Medicare and Medicaid. (A recent USA Today analysis found that West Virginia gets 28 percent of its income from government programs, more than any other state. Also, its population is second oldest in the nation, behind Florida.)

Even though many of those factors would seem to point toward support for Obama, the president has just simply never been popular there. One of the few areas in 2008 where McCain improved over past elections was Appalachia, an area that overlaps heavily with West Virginia's population.

But is there a cautionary tale for Democrats in the somewhat amusing scare led by Judd, who's serving a 17-and-a-half-year federal prison sentence in Texas after being convicted of making threats at the University of New Mexico?

The peculiar Obama effect in West Virginia has been apparent in the actions of the state's junior senator, Democrat Joe Manchin. A former governor of the state, Manchin tacked well to the right in his bid for the seat of the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd in 2010.

The Morning Joe panel discusses federal prison inmate Keith Judd -- who received 41 percent of the vote in West Virginia's Democratic primary.

So blunt were Manchin's efforts to distance himself from Obama that he released a TV ad that cycle showing him shooting a copy of the president's signature health care law.

Even though he won the 2010 election, he's been a thorn in Obama's side since joining the Senate, accusing him of failing to lead the charge on cutting spending last year.  In a statement last month, Manchin said, “I have some real differences with both Gov. Romney and the president, as I have said many times."

But because Manchin won his seat in a special election, he must run for a full term again this November.

Related: Against Obama, even a jailbird gets some votes

"Stimulus deficit spending? Manchin is your man. The Obama agenda? Joe is on board more than 85 percent of the time," John Raese, Manchin's Republican opponent in 2010 who's challenging the senator again this fall, wrote Wednesday in the Charleston Gazette.

Democratic West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has also been coy about whether he'll even vote for Obama this fall. ("His policies will put more burdens on West Virginia families who are simply trying to make ends meet," he said earlier this month.)

But Republicans have also targeted longtime Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, who's been more vocal about his support for Obama.

"Obama losing six counties in the 3rd District to a Texas prison inmate is the canary in the coal mine that Rahall’s 36-year career in Congress is coming to an end," said Nat Sillin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, in a statement.

There are plenty of other examples of instances in which Democratic candidates have sought to manage the extent to which they're tied to Obama. Republicans in some states have also had to wrestle with being tied to Romney.

According to a Democratic strategist familiar with the party's Senate campaign efforts, this is isn't atypical behavior. "I don't know that it changes all that much from one state to another. When our candidates agree, say so. When they disagree, say so."