Analysis: State Republicans hope dislike of Obama brings victories
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Today, the Republican Party will see its hopes for 2012 put to the test.
West Virginia's minority party has waited years for the coming alignment of the stars: unpopular President Barack Obama atop the ticket in West Virginia, a state where 40 percent of Democratic primary voters picked an imprisoned felon over a sitting president.
Republicans have hoped the anti-Obama vote will run red down the ticket and propel Republicans over Democrats despite Democrats' voter registration advantage in the state.
However, a Republican blowout did not seem assured in the final days of this year's race.
The most closely watched state races are the governor's race, the attorney general's race and the four-way race for two seats on the state Supreme Court.
For Republicans to win, they and like-minded independent voters will need to show up and Democrats will need to stay home or turn coat at the polls.
Early voting and absentee turnout figures show fewer Democrats filling out ballots than by this time in 2008.
It is everyone's foregone conclusion that Obama will lose to Republican Mitt Romney in West Virginia, although some Democrats have wondered if the race will end up being the drubbing many people expect.
State Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said every statewide race is competitive. In years past, the party has been unable to field Republicans to challenge all the incumbent Democrats.
"And with a strong showing by Mitt Romney as the electorate looks to reject Barack Obama and his entire regime, that means supporting a Republican ticket all the way down the ballot," Lucas said.
For their part, Democrats believe they have a few statewide races clearly locked up, like the U.S. Senate race.
But the campaign has been about more than Obama: The Republican Party has blamed the state's many ills on the entire Democratic Party.
Democrats have parried with their recent successes in taking control of the state's books and paying down its liabilities.
Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said he's heard each election year since 2006 that Republicans were going to mark their breakthrough. Each year, the predictions have been wrong.
"People ask me, 'When are the Republicans going to start winning seats in West Virginia?' " Puccio said. "And I say, 'When they put better candidates up to run than Democrats.' "
The 2006 midterms were a handful of election cycles ago in West Virginia, including the 2011 special election for governor. The Republican Party has 1st District Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and 35 seats in the 100-member House to show for it - but not a governor, not a U.S. senator, not an attorney general and not a Republican-controlled chamber in the state Legislature.
In West Virginia, 51 percent of voters are registered Democrats - a number that has crawled downward in recent years. Twenty-nine percent are Republicans, and 18 percent are independents, a category that is growing here and nationwide.
The gubernatorial candidates' final days of campaigning told as clear a story as any about the voters each man needs to win.
Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin spent Sunday in North Central West Virginia - Harrison, Monongalia and Marion counties - and on Monday traveled through the southern coalfield counties of Mercer, Raleigh and Cabell.
Republican challenger Bill Maloney was in his native Morgantown on Sunday and on Monday was scheduled to be in Parkersburg, Charleston and back to Morgantown. During the day he would appear separately with Reps. McKinley in Morgantown and Shelley Moore Capito at a Charleston diner.
On Election Day, Maloney planned to be in Jefferson County, Beckley and Wheeling - a disparate set of points that he planned to reach by air.
The Tomblin-Maloney match has been a 17-month contest. It began the night of May 14, 2011, when both men emerged victorious from their party primaries. Tomblin then narrowly beat Maloney in October 2011 for a one-year term. Maloney said he wanted a rematch.
The issues in the race have been simple: Maloney says Tomblin is part of 80 years of Democratic control and argues the Democrats, including Tomblin, have failed too many public school students and unemployed workers.
Tomblin's allies argue things have gotten better since the late 1980s when the state was nearly bankrupted by poor management.
Most of the state's newspaper editorial boards and special interest groups have backed Tomblin (the Daily Mail editorial board endorsed Maloney). That's something the Maloney campaign has fought through. His win could be a major rebuke of what his campaign has called the status quo.
Tomblin's campaign kept up negative ads through late last week, as sure an indication as any that the campaign did not feel the race was in the bag.
The Maloney campaign has been running more positive ads in recent weeks, though the latest included a put-down of the governor. Tomblin supporters have called the ad hypocritical because in it Maloney also calls for an end to negativity.
The Maloney campaign made less mention on TV of Tomblin family members' state-subsidized greyhound racing business, a feature of the 2011 anti-Tomblin campaign. It has mentioned the subsidies in emails as well, and anti-Tomblin operatives were trying to come up with scandals to bring down Tomblin until the last hours of the race.
Both parties have made a few hundred thousands calls to get their people to the polls.
Lucas said a select number of counties would decide the outcome.
"It's how fed up are Democrats south of Route 60 and how motivated are Republicans in the Eastern Panhandle and along the Turnpike?" Lucas said.
Those turnpike counties include Raleigh, Mercer and Greenbrier counties. U.S. 60 is the commonly accepted dividing line between the southern coalfields and the rest of the state.
Last week's heavy snowfalls have probably altered the electoral equation but perhaps not drastically. Hard hit were reliable Republican counties like Upshur and Preston but also Democratic counties like Webster, Braxton, Nicholas and Randolph. Mainly, the storm occupied the media and drowned out coverage of the race's final days.