Survey finds state residents favoring Romney
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Mitt Romney has a sizable lead over President Barack Obama among West Virginia voters, but the top-of-the-ticket race does not seem to be helping Republicans below, the latest West Virginia Poll shows.
Even though Republicans have been relying heavily on Obama's unpopularity in their campaigns, the poll shows Obama drawing higher numbers than several Republicans in statewide races.
The West Virginia Poll, conducted for the Charleston Daily Mail by R.L. Repass & Partners, surveyed 401 likely voters between Aug. 22 and 25. The margin of error is 4.9 percent.
The poll shows Romney has a 14-point lead over Obama in this state.
If the election were held today, 52 percent of likely voters would choose Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, as compared to 38 percent who would vote for the Democratic ticket of President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
The remaining 10 percent said they were undecided.
An April poll showed Romney with a 17-point lead over Obama in West Virginia.
Also as in April, the latest poll showed no coattail effect for Republicans further down the ticket.
In the race for U.S. Senate, 66 percent said they would vote for incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin while 27 percent said they would vote for Republican businessman John Raese.
In the governor's race, 56 percent said they would vote for incumbent Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin compared to 35 percent who favor Republican businessman Bill Maloney.
Both races are rematches of recent special elections for the offices of U.S. Senate and governor.
The latest results are a bit narrower than results from the April poll, which had Manchin leading Raese 74 percent to 22 percent and Tomblin leading Maloney 60 percent to 32 percent.
Pollster Rex Repass said the results indicate recent campaign attempts to tie Manchin and Tomblin to national Democratic leaders haven't swayed many West Virginians.
"Party is not the driving force for many of these candidates in West Virginia," Repass said.
Instead, voters are paying more attention to political ideology and candidates' positions on specific policies, he believes.
West Virginia Democrats are widely believed to be more conservative than their national counterparts, and the poll results support that.
Among those surveyed, 51 percent said they were registered Democrats, 31 percent said they were Republicans, and 17 percent described themselves as independent.
But that did not translate into political ideology.
Just 33 percent described themselves as liberal. Twenty-four percent said they were somewhat liberal and 9 percent said they were very liberal.
The majority of those surveyed - 63 percent - described themselves as conservative, with 45 percent saying they were somewhat conservative and 18 percent saying they were very conservative.
"Party labels just don't fit anymore," Repass said. "It's more about conservative to progressive and conservative to liberal."
While Joe Manchin, Earl Ray Tomblin and Barack Obama all are registered Democrats, he said voters realize there's a difference.
"It's difficult to align Joe Manchin or Earl Ray Tomblin with Barack Obama," Repass said. "Particularly on energy, coal and natural gas, their positions are not in line with President Obama. So it's difficult to align them with President Obama with any credibility."
State Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio agreed that voters are able to discern the differences between national and state Democratic candidates.
"Personally, I believe that we have a very intelligent voter in West Virginia, and they never vote against someone because of someone else," Puccio said.
Puccio noted that Raese and Maloney's attempts to capitalize on Obama's low popularity have not benefited their respective races.
"Everyone's talking about Obama's unpopularity," Puccio said. "The point I want to get across is that both Maloney and Raese are less popular in this state than Barack Obama.
"Both of them have recently spent millions of dollars promoting themselves and their message, and both of them are less popular than Barack Obama," he said.
State GOP leaders criticized the poll. They cited a poll Repass did one month prior to last year's special gubernatorial election that showed Tomblin with a much higher lead than the one he ended up with on Election Day.
"This Rex Repass poll is the same as his work last year. Garbage in and garbage out," state GOP chairman Conrad Lucas said in a statement. "When our team goes to the public with a poll, we call actual voters with actual humans on real phones. Not fake Internet polls."
Lucas was referring to the fact that last September's poll was conducted solely online. The majority of those surveyed in the most recent poll were reached via telephone, while some online contacts were made to reach younger respondents.
Lucas also accused the poll of being weighted toward Democrats.
"He's clearly oversampling Democrats, just as the mainstream media does to harm the Romney-Ryan campaign," he said. "Repass' work was embarrassing last year, and we look forward to grading it again this year on Nov. 6."
The pool of 401 likely voters was targeted to match the 2010 U.S. Census' demographic profile of the state's adult population. But when compared to statewide registration totals on the Secretary of State's website, the poll actually included a greater percentage of Republicans in the overall sample.
The Tomblin campaign welcomed the poll results. Spokesman Chris Stadelman said the campaign remains optimistic that voters won't be swayed by the Maloney campaign's attacks.
"Gov. Tomblin appreciates that so many voters continue to support him and his plans for more jobs and lower taxes in West Virginia," Stadelman said. "While there is more work to be done, Gov. Tomblin is proud to fight against the EPA and for our coal industry and miners, and to maintain the fiscally responsible policies of recent years."
Maloney campaign spokesman Seth Wimer, who was reached in Florida, said his candidate's message is working.
"The campaign's momentum is growing every day because Bill Maloney's message of a brighter future for West Virginia is resonating with voters," he said. "People are tired of rising unemployment in the Obama-Tomblin economy and the career politicians, who allow our state to be nearly last in every category."
Wimer said Maloney plans to continue focusing on plans to create jobs, control government spending and improve schools through the rest of the campaign.
In the race for two seats on the state Supreme Court, incumbent Democratic Justice Robin Davis holds a solid lead among the four candidates with 40 percent of respondents favoring her.
Fellow Democrat Letitia "Tish" Chafin and Republicans John Yoder and Allen Loughry are in a tight battle for the second seat, the poll indicates.
Chafin drew 30 percent in the poll, while Yoder was one point behind at 29 percent and Loughry drew 24 percent.
The race had 29 percent of likely voters saying they were undecided.
Incumbent Democrats also held significant leads in two other statewide races.
Incumbent Attorney General Darrell McGraw was favored over Republican Patrick Morrisey by 57 percent to 33 percent.
Incumbent state Treasurer John Perdue drew 53 percent support, compared to 34 percent who favored Republican state Sen. Mike Hall.
Repass said the down-ticket races are more challenging to poll.
"They tend to be very name identification-oriented," he said. "If you know Darrell McGraw, and know that he's attorney general, then they're more likely to say in a survey that they'll support that candidate versus a newcomer."
Jay vs. Shelley
The poll also included a hypothetical race between longtime U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Second Congressional District Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
Rockefeller's current term ends in 2014, and it has been speculated that Capito could make a run for the seat. Capito has not confirmed that, and Rockefeller has not announced whether he will seek another term.
The poll found that if the election in a Rockefeller-Capito race were held today, Capito would get 48 percent of the vote and Rockefeller, 44 percent.
However, those results are within the poll's margin of error, and another 8 percent of voters were undecided.
"Sen. Rockefeller being behind by 4 points is a surprise to me because he has always polled very well in West Virginia," Repass said.
He said Rockefeller's increasing tendency to align with the national Democratic Party on issues like the Affordable Care Act and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations has cut into his historic polling advantage.
Meanwhile, Capito has carved out a more moderate niche with state voters.
"She's a popular, effective congresswoman," Repass said. "She's a center-right Republican, and she knows how to work with her Democratic colleagues ... she works across the aisle, and I think West Virginians recognize that."
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-5148.