Yglesias pokes fun at the importance of West Virginia:

What’s even more interesting is that no Democrat has won the White House without carrying Minnesota since 1912 (it went for Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose party) so given that Obama won Minnesota and Clinton won West Virginia, McCain is guaranteed to win the general election unless the eventual nominee can somehow completely replicate the social and political conditions prevailing in pre-WWI America. The outlook, in short, is very grim.

Very droll.  To put this in a slightly different light, even Michael Dukakis won West Virginia, or, to put it more starkly, even Jimmy Carter in 1980 won West Virginia.  Someone might object that Kerry came very close to winning without carrying the state, which is true, and someone could argue that Gore still won the popular vote and didn’t carry it, which is also true, but it remains the case that had Bush not carried West Virginia in 2000 he would not have become President after Bush v. Gore, because there would have been no great recount drama, the results in Florida would have been irrelevant to the final decision, and Florida could not have swung the outcome to Bush anyway.  In 2004, it mattered considerably less, because West Virginia tends to back incumbent Presidents regardless of party.  So the inability of the Democratic nominee to carry West Virginia when no incumbent President was running gave us eight years of George Bush–think on that for a moment and then tell us that it doesn’t matter whether the Democrat can win there.  

In any case, the larger point in talking about competing in West Virginia (and Kentucky) is that weakness there seems to reflect significant weakness that carries over in other states that the Democratic candidate does need to win, such as Ohio or Missouri or Pennsylvania.