Around the U.S. in 50 Days: West Virginia

This will be a rather short entry, although there is a lot of drama for such a small state and the outcomes pretty much settled. For Governor, incumbent Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin should win reelection with little problem. Meanwhile, Joe Manchin runs for a full term in the Senate after winning a special election in 2010 to complete the term of deceased Senator Robert Byrd. He will most likely face John Raese again for the Republicans. For such a conservative state, such a Republican state, one would think that the GOP can do better than a three time loser for a Senate seat. In 2010, Manchin crushed Raese in the General election and there is no reason he will not do the same thing again this time around. Initial polling puts Manchin an average of 32 points ahead and there is practically nothing Raese can do to narrow that gap.

In actuality, Manchin is a Democrat I believe the Republicans can live with in the Senate. He is more centrist than an ideologue and there is a reason for that. He has to be given the political make up of the state. Besides, they have their resident “liberal” in Jay Rockefeller, the senior Senator from the state. Hence, should Manchin veer left, he has to answer to the electorate. If that happens- and there are no indications it will- then a candidate like Raese may find an opening.

In 2008, Obama lost West Virginia by 13 points to John McCain. It is doubtful he will come remotely close this year. With approval ratings in the low 30s, this is one state where we can safely say that Obama is not a welcome man. Considering that coal plays a very important role in the state’s economy, Obama’s attacks on coal, insistence on the clean coal pipe dream and unwavering support of an alternative energy utopia, he stands no chance in 2012. In 2008, Obama managed to carry only 7 of West Virginia’s 55 counties. Ironically, some of them are the very ones that saw population decreases. Which brings us to the subject of redistricting and the controversy surrounding it.

Unlike many other states, West Virginia, when redistricting, demands that county lines be respected and that they not be split. As a result, many times there will be a differential in the ideal population counts for each district beyond those normally associated in other states. This becomes evident in states with small populations where a 2000-3000 difference in population between districts can amount to a .22% deviation from the ideal. As a general rule, deviations of that magnitude automatically trigger alleged violations of the one man-one vote concept. And that was precisely the reasoning of the District Court in ruling the new map unconstitutional. The State then appealed to the US Supreme Court. Coincidentally, a similar challenge out of Texas was being litigated before the Court, although it was slightly different in that the Texas dispute involved the VRA.

The Supreme Court then ruled on January 20th that the District Court in Texas basically exceeded its authority by creating new maps without consideration of the legislatively drawn maps. Without outright ruling that courts lacked that authority, they laid down guidelines that said the courts had to start with the legislatively-drawn maps as the primary template since they reflect the preferences of the people of the state through their elected officials. And since deference is given to those maps, provided they do not violate the VRA or the Constitution, they should prevail. In short, total redraws by courts will be frowned upon. In a one sentence statement, they issued a stay against the court order in the West Virginia case. Usually when a stay is granted, they deem that the State will likely prevail in later court action. Hence, the districts will likely stay intact with minor variations in West Virginia.

In the state, the southern area of the state and the northern panhandle saw population decreases while the eastern panhandle saw almost equal population increases One of the problems in West Virginia is media coverage. Specifically, candidates, in order to get their message out, usually have to buy time on low capacity local stations, or on stations based in the expensive DC market. This problem manifested itself in the 2010 midterm elections.

Regardless, with the districts now pretty much established, it is easier to prognosticate. In the 1st District, Republican incumbent David McKinley will likely face Democratic activist Susan Thorn and he should prevail. In the 2nd, Shelly Moore Capito, a Republican will likely face a May primary challenge against state delegate Jonathan Miller. However, Capito is a safe Republican in this state. In fact, she was considered as a possible candidate for Governor, but deferred on that race in order to retain her House seat. However, one needs to keep an eye on her political future. Although she passed up a run for Governor, there is a Senate election in 2014 for Jay Rockefeller’s seat. As a result, one will have to see how well Miller performs in the primary. A decent showing can only help his political aspirations as the heir apparent to Capito in the 2nd District should she decide on a Senate run in 2014.

The only Democrat in the congressional delegation- Nick Rahall- represents the 3rd District. Either 2010 opponent Lee Bias or Tea Party activist/attorney Bill Lester will oppose him for the Republicans. The bottom line is that there will likely be no changes in the political equation out of West Virginia. Tomblin will win a full term for Governor as Manchin will prevail for a full 6-year term. The House delegation will remain the same.

And I cannot believe I got over 950 words on this entry…

Running totals thus far:
Obama with 144 electoral votes/ Romney with 199 votes;
Net gain of 2 Governors;
Net gain of 4 Senate seats, and;
Net loss of 7 House seats.

Next: Pennsylvania