In the last three presidential elections, West Virginia has voted for the Republican candidate. However, Democrats in still have a nearly 2:1 registration advantage (630,000 vs. 347,000). Last night, voters proved that even though Senator Robert Byrd is dead, “wild and wonderful” West Virginia’s love of local Democrats is still alive:
Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin edged a Republican newcomer in West Virginia’s special election for governor, suggesting the state’s recent economic gains mattered more to voters here than an unpopular sitting president of the same party – barely. But the barrage of attack ads targeting Tomblin, the acting governor, likely tightened his race with businessman Bill Maloney in the final weeks.
Maloney and his GOP backers sought to make it a Republican upset by invoking the unpopular President Barack Obama. But the Mountain State’s improving financial health helped Tomblin while the negativity in the GOP attack ads turned off some voters. Tomblin also ran attack ads during the campaign.
Tomblin won with 49 percent to Maloney’s 47 percent. Inside Republican sources confirm the outcome looked positive for Republicans during most of last night, they were preparing to spin their victory as a rejection of Obama’s policies in the state which the president’s approval ratings are 5th lowest in the nation, according to Gallup. The loss came as a surprise.
On a positive note, in a state which routinely elects Democrats on state-wide level, it is the closest election for Republicans in recent memory. But the election was unusual, as it was a special election called to fill the position left open by now-Senator Joe Manchin and turn-out was approximately 22 percent.
Tomblin superficially distanced himself completely from President Obama, especially on the economy and the environment, by using the language of conservatism. His campaign frequently made reference to how the state unemployment rate (8.1 percent) is lower than the national average, while endorsing a number of business and consumer tax cuts which the state is implementing this year.
Tomblin, who represented a southern district full of coal since 1974, also ran on a staunchly pro-coal platform and has been involved in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for their handling of permits. Tomblin, who was endorsed by West Virginia’s Coal Association, had a majority of his donations tied to the coal industry.
Polling was close throughout the race, with the final poll from Public Policy Polling putting Tomblin at 47 percent and Maloney at 46 percent.