25 Days to Election Day: West Virginia

About half way through this series of articles, we are about to leave territory friendly to Mitt Romney and the Republican Party in general as we head into the northeast and the swing states. West Virginia went for McCain in 2010 and they will go for Romney is 2012 to a greater degree. There is a palpable dislike of Obama in this state bordering on hatred. Most of that is attributable to Obama’s “war on coal.” Coal mining remains a huge employer and billion dollar business in West Virginia. Whether it is his apparent dislike of coal or EPA mandates, the people of West Virginia to some degree view it as a personal attack. Additionally, West Virginia happens to lie over portions of the Marcellus shale formation, proven to have large reserves of natural gas that can be obtained through fracking. Even here, the Obama Administration has sided with the EPA over the process which threatens future energy development in the state.

It is also a fact that although Florida’s population is obviously higher, West Virginia actually has a higher proportion of senior citizens and retirees as a percentage of their population than Florida. Despite the Democratic scare tactics regarding Medicare and Social Security, those in West Virginia remained steadfast in their opposition to Obama. Hence, there is absolutely NO WAY Obama gets their 5 electoral votes.

In the Senate race, incumbent Democrat and former Governor Joe Manchin won a special election in 2010 to replace Robert Byrd. His opponent that year and this time out will be John Raese for the GOP. In 2010, Manchin won by about 10% and 50,000 votes. It should not be as close this year. The reason is that although not a wave election year, Manchin’s stances in the Senate have largely reflected his constituency. He is a conservative Democrat and needs to be to win in West Virginia. My worry is that this was only a two-year effort in order to get reelected to a full six year term and that he will side less with Republicans in a full term and more with the Democratic leadership whether they control the Senate or not. Manchin is a potential key vote for the GOP in the Senate to break anticipated Democratic filibusters, especially on energy issues. For his part, illustrative of the mood in West Virginia towards Obama, Manchin has publicly stated he is undecided who he will vote for on Election Day for President. Part of that is political savvy, but it is also indicative of West Virginia’s general dislike of the current Oval Office occupant. As an aside, a recent “controversy” has erupted that indirectly affects Manchin. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has attacked fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as being supportive of Manchin’s candidacy. Apparently this goes back to a vote over cutting off foreign aid to Libya, Egypt and Pakistan that Paul pushed. Graham and Manchin voted against the amendment (along with 79 other Senators; it failed 81-10) which has apparently prompted Paul to make these assertions. Although Graham has not responded, Manchin said that his vote was predicated upon the fact that Paul’s amendment was so wrongly worded that he had to vote against it. Not to get off the subject of West Virginia, but this entire episode is indicative of the problems Lindsey Graham will most likely face in 2014. Besides having a target on his back from a Democrat, he will likely face a serious primary challenge from the right.

When Manchin went to the Senate, a special election was held in 2011 and acting Democratic Governor Earl Tomblin won the special election. He now seeks a full term against 2011 GOP candidate Bill Maloney. In the 2011 election, Tomblin won by about 10%. Polling thus far indicates he will be reelected by a larger margin in 2012.

Just recently, the US Supreme Court approved the legislatively-drawn congressional district map despite a lawsuit involving the concept of one man-one vote. The map was challenged by the Democrats in West Virginia. The Court ruled that each district does need to be absolutely equal in population and that the map was constitutional. It largely left untouched the previous map. Also, because West Virginia relies on the expensive Washington DC television market, campaigning can be expensive for such a small state in terms of size and population.

In the First District, an area with some of the lowest approval ratings for Obama in the state, Republican incumbent David McKinley has been a very vocal opponent of Obama’s policies. However, he has shown some independence from the GOP by voting against the Ryan budget citing his concerns for Medicare funding. McKinley defeated state senator Mike Oliverio in 2010. His opponent will be Sue Thorn, a community organizer for the DNC seeking her first run for office, most likely in a losing cause.

The Charleston-based Second District Republican incumbent Shelley Moore Capito seeks reelection against Democrat Howard Swint. Capito has proven herself to be the state’s most electable Republican and has gained a position of power in the House and, as a result, has become a very vocal opponent of Obama, especially his “war on coal.” The fact is that she is entrenched in this District and should easily win reelection. The only thing stopping her in the future will be a retirement to pursue the Governor’s Office as she has been mentioned as a very real possibility in the future. There were rumors she may attempt a run this year, but decided against it. Swint is trying to question Capito’s finances and mortgage holdings especially in light of the fact that she chairs a Financial Services subcommittee.

In the southern Third District, Democratic incumbent Nick Rahall seeks reelection. The southern coal fields of the state dominate this economically depressed district. In 2010, the coal industry mounted an ill-fated campaign to oust Rahall citing the fact that he did not do enough to help the industry. Unlike Tomblin or Manchin, he was broken with the Democratic leadership in West Virginia and openly endorsed Obama’s reelection. His opponent will be Rick Snuffer who ran against and lost to Rahall in 2004. In 2006, he came in third in the Republican primary for Senate. Thus, Snuffer is not an unknown in this district. Again, he is painting Rahall as siding too much with Obama and not being supportive enough of the coal industry. Recently, he has picked up the support of the fragmented Tea Party still remaining in this area. Additionally, Rahall has past ethical problems including a DUI charge in California, an unpaid $60,000 gambling debt in Las Vegas, and the fact his son spent 14 months in federal prison on a cocaine charge. Yet, still he won.

In conclusion: Romney takes 5 electoral votes here while Democrat Earl Tomblin wins a four-year term as Governor. Democrat Joe Manchin is reelected to a six-year term in the Senate and all incumbent representatives are reelected.

Running totals thus far: Romney leads Obama 159-108 in electoral votes. The Senate is now 34-18 in favor of Republicans and the House is also in control of the GOP, 124-91.

Next: Maryland