40 in 2010: WV-01

Cross-posted at The Skeptical Michigander

(In order for the Republicans to take back the House in 2010, they need to net 40 seats. It’s a long shot, but it is possible. By my count, there are 92 Dem-held seats that the Republicans have at least an outside chance of winning. That number will change as we get closer to election time, of course. But for now, I’ll be highlighting some of these seats from time to time.)

There’s a lot of talk about the realignment shift, wherein conservative southern Democrats turn Republican while liberal northeast Republicans turn Democrats. Well, the liberal northeast Republicans have turned, but the southern Democrats are still hesitating. So will Nancy Pelosi be the one to finally be the catalyst to get a southern revolution? Who knows. But sometimes you feel there’s a perfect storm brewing, and if it doesn’t happen now, it never will. That’s probably not the case for all districts, but it just might be the case in West Virginia.

West Virginia 01
Location: The northern third of the state. It doesn’t contain Charleston or any other large cities, but does include WV University. It’s fairly rural, a bit blue-collar-ish, almost purely white, and supposedly fairly conservative.

Incumbent: Alan Mollohan
Alan Mollohan is a long termer, being around since the early 1980s. While he had a couple tough elections early on, he’s since become completely entrenched and hasn’t had to deal with a tough reelection. Heck, he didn’t even have an opponent in 2008, which was more or less the norm for a while. So what keeps him in there? Well, a tradition of voting for democrats and the belief that he brings home the bacon, er, pork. He’s a member of the appropriations committee; of course he’s going to get some juicy stuff. Unfortunately for him, that may be his undoing. Rather than benefiting his district, it looks like he pulled a Murtha and had it benefit himself. A typical income when he first appeared, he’s now one of the richest Congressmen. How? By steering nearly half of his earmarks to groups that he’s connected with. Funny how that works. Also, it appears that some of his earmarks are actually hurting his district as well. Because of this, he’s been under investigation for quite a while, and recently it became clear that the Justice department still isn’t done looking at him. And perhaps because of that, his fundraising has been anemic. He’s only raised $200k so far this cycle, and it looks like most of that has gone to lawyers. Let’s just say it’s not a pleasant time for him, and that it’s no surprise he’s on the GOP’s retirement watch list (to say nothing of the “most corrupted politicians” list). Voting wise, he’s with Pelosi on all the big ones (stimulus, health care, increased debt ceiling, Stimulus II: It’ll work this time, honest!) except, naturally, cap and trade (given WV’s coal based economy).

Cook Partisan Index: R+9
Cook Race Rating: Likely Dem
CQ Politics Race Rating: Safe Dem
Rothenberg Rating: Safe Dem
Larry Sabato: Safe Dem
(Note that, this far away, all these ratings are geared towards the incubent. Take them with a grain of salt)

Previous election results:
McCain 57, Obama 42
Bush 58, Kerry 41
Bush 54, Gore 43
2008 Mollohan 100
2006 Mollohan 64, Wakim 36
2004 Mollohan 68, Parks 32

Confirmed Republican Candidates (and their websites):
Cindy Hall
David McKinley
Scott Smith
Tom Stark
Daniel Swisher
Mac Warner

Most of Scott Smith‘s website doesn’t work, and his Twitter and Facebook hasn’t updated since July. He’s a young coal executive, but given his lack of updates my guess is he’s a long shot. Daniel Swisher is also a businessman and a political neophyte. His website is nice and professional looking, but for the most part all it does is attack Mollohan. Which, in all fairness, I can’t complain about. He’s yet another longshot (his 3rd quarter fundraising was a mere $5k), so why not try out the negative attacks to see what sticks for the real candidate? Cindy Hall is aiming at the grassroots, but all of the talk I’ve heard of her has been pretty dismissive. Her website is amateurish and it seems her campaign is as well, including recruiting a high schooler to run her office.

So let’s move on to the next tier of candidates. Tom Stark is a veteran, Tea Party activist, and small business owner with a detailed website and good, solid ideas. I haven’t seen him get much noise in the media or in the internet, but at least he’s still out there plugging away. He’s certainly the ideologically pure candidate, and his enthusiasm is certainly not questioned, but it remains to be seen if he can build the grassroots into a viable candidacy. Mac Warner has family connections, as his brother was a former state GOP chairman and gubernatorial candidate. His website’s a bit sparse on his positions, but he’s been active at getting his word out elsewhere. From what I can tell, he’s about what you would expect: a conventional conservative. I haven’t heard anything particularly impressive in his campaigning so far, but in all fairness to him, I haven’t looked hard. At the very least, his bio is worthwhile, and he should have the political know-how to run a good campaign.

State Senator Clark Barnes was in the race, despite not actually being from this district. He said he came in initially so that there would be someone running with legislative experience, and said he bowed out because there are candidates now. I’m assuming he’s referring to David McKinley, the newest candidate and probably the front runner (or at least Warner’s top rival). He’s a former state rep, former gubernatorial candidate (lost the primary), and an architectural engineer. What does this mean? He’s got political experience, he’s got political connections, and he’s rich enough to self fund. Unfortunately, since he just filed pre-candidacy papers, he doesn’t have a website yet, so we can’t see his positions. But he did speak at a Tea Party meeting, so you can get what he’s talking about there. Namely, limited spending, pro Constitution, socially conservative. So all things considered, I don’t think he’d be a bad idea.

Despite the Presidential numbers above, WV has only recently started looking at Republicans. They voted for Clinton twice and Dukakis before that. Between that, their two blue Senators, governor, etc, it’s obvious that this is a state that has not been on Republicans’ radars. But look at all the problems Mollohan’s having this time around. Fun piece of trivia: there’s currently 6 Republicans running against him. He’s only faced 6 total Republicans his entire career. This is someone who’s never had to campaign in the last 25 years. And suddenly, 6 different people want to take a shot at him? That’s some pretty serious discontent right there. If it’s enough to grab an extra 15-20% in votes, well, who knows? But that’s in line with the swings we saw in Virgina and New Jersey, so it’s possible.

And like I said, it’s nearly a perfect storm. Between the ethics complaints, the potential wave, the poor fundraising, the health care anger, and everything else, Mollohan could find himself swept out of office. One big caveat here: the WV Republican party is broke and incompetent. So whoever the eventual winner of the primary is, they’re going to have to do it alone. By the same token, there’s no upstream races that could help or hurt them. Also, with cap and trade fading, the anger at Democrats (at least in WV) may fade a bit as well. Of course, Mollohan voted against C&T, but apparently he didn’t take any sort of leadership position in opposing it.

So it’s not as if it’ll be easy. And Warner and McKinley both have some negative sides. Warner’s connections with the state GOP party may be a net negative (remember that bit about it being broke and incompetent? Sure, someone else is running the show now, but apparently Warner’s brother wasn’t much better). McKinley’s a bit old and didn’t win a primary in a big race. Still, I have to guess that he’d be the better candidate, given his supposed ability to self fund and his former campaigning experience. This is a seat that I think the GOP will want to target this cycle, and if so then maybe this will be the year that he’s finally kicked out.

Given Mollohan’s ethics problems, that would make me very happy.

Other links of interest
West Virginia Red (looks to be the largest WV-centric rightwing blog)
Parkersburg Tea Party (has videos of several of the candidates’ speeches)
West Virginia Watchdog (good independent news source)