WEST VIRGINIA?…. There are plenty of “red” states in play this year, and plenty of key pick-up opportunities for the Obama campaign. There’s never been any reason, though, to think West Virginia is on the list.

Why, then, is Sarah Palin campaigning in the state today?

In what may be another signal that the troubled economy is forcing John McCain’s campaign to play electoral map defense, Sarah Palin has scheduled a bus tour for Sunday through West Virginia, a state that’s been leaning red throughout this presidential race.

Palin had already scheduled a bus tour of Pennsylvania on Saturday, but she will now repeat that act on Sunday by making various unannounced stops throughout West Virginia, culminating in a campaign event in southeast Ohio. It’s a swing geographically reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s effort during the Democratic primary to court white working class voters in Appalachia. Clinton won the West Virginia primary over Barack Obama by a whopping 67-26 margin.

Realistically, if the Republican ticket were cruising to an easy victory in the state, Palin probably wouldn’t bother to make any campaign stops at all.

And therein lies the point: West Virginia, a state McCain expected to take for granted, is competitive.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.