Acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) successfully withstood a strong gubernatorial special election challenge from Republican businessman Bill Maloney last night, winning a tight 50-47 percent victory. An overwhelmingly Democratic state in voter registration (53 percent D – 29 percent R), the Mountain State has been voting decidedly Republican in recent national elections. In fact, no Democratic presidential candidate has carried the state since 1996. But, for state contests, the Dems have remained in control as they again did yesterday.
Tomblin will fill the final year of Joe Manchin’s (D) second term as governor. Manchin resigned the office when he was elected to the US Senate last year. He was heavily involved in campaigning for Tomblin and certainly could have made the difference for his Democratic successor in what evolved into a close race. The senator is the state’s most popular elected official.
Polling showed the race closing fast in Maloney’s favor, but it was a question whether his charge was too little, too late. He under-performed in the coal country, which is a good sign for the state’s Democrats. The party’s federal candidates were ravaged here during the 2010 election as a direct result of the President’s Cap & Trade legislation.
Though the GOP, particularly through a $1.8 million Republican Governor’s Association independent expenditure, tried to tie Tomblin directly to President Obama – attacking mostly on healthcare as opposed to Cap & Trade – the strategy came up just short. This may be an example of how an offensive on a federal issue may not necessarily carry over to a state race.
Turnout was very low, just under 25% of the state’s 1.2 million registered voters. An average congressional special election usually broaches participation rates in the 35% range, with statewide contests usually doing better.
Gov. Tomblin is eligible to run for a full term next year. It remains to be seen if Maloney runs again.