Gubernatorial candidates prepare for showdown
CHARLESTON, W.Va.--Voters can expect Democratic acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican businessman Bill Maloney to talk a lot about jobs and who will be better at getting more of them in West Virginia.
Both men won decisive victories in their respective party's primary Saturday. Now they are gearing up for the Oct. 4 special gubernatorial election, for about a 14-month stint in the Governor's Office.
Early conversations with campaign and party officials suggest this could resemble the U.S. Senate race last year between then-Gov. Joe Manchin and Republican businessman John Raese.
Now, just as then, Republicans are planning to draw a contrast between their candidate, a businessman, and a "career politician." Tomblin has spent much of his life in politics and Maloney is making his first run for elected office.
"Do we want some of the same old folks running the state or do we want new perspectives, new ideas and new people? Do we want a governor who is going to demand results from the government rather than be part of the same old Charleston scene?" Maloney campaign spokesman Matt Dabrowski said Sunday afternoon.
Now, just as then, Democrats are hoping West Virginia voters may find the Republican's positions too extreme for their tastes.
"I think we'll find Maloney has some ideas that are kind of out there," said Tomblin campaign spokesman Chris Stadelman.
That's a tactic Manchin's campaign used successfully against Raese.
Raese had suggested an expensive space-based laser defense system, for instance. But it's not clear yet what positions might be used against Maloney.
Now, just as then, Democrats are also hoping to paint their candidate as a fiscal conservative. Now, just as then, Republicans are arguing Democrats are to blame for the state's ills.
A key talking point from Republicans over the past few years has been how West Virginia remains at the bottom of so many lists — highlighting its low income, poor health and underperforming schools — after decades of Democratic control of the Legislature.
The Tomblin camp, in turn, is pointing out that Tomblin helped fix some of the long-term problems created by earlier generations of leaders by helping pay off massive unfunded liabilities. Tomblin is the state's longest-serving Senate president. By virtue of holding that title, he began acting as governor following the departure of Manchin for the U.S. Senate.
"I think Earl Ray Tomblin has a great track record of improving the state's condition, fiscally in particular," Stadelman said. "We've taken care a lot of long-standing issues while he's been in key positions."
Dabrowski replied, "I'd say, he's been up there almost 40 years, is he suggesting that he's part of the problem in Charleston despite being in a leadership position for 36 years?"
The Manchin-Raese, Maloney-Tomblin race isn't identical, of course.
State GOP Chairman Mike Stuart said there are key differences between the two races.
"The people of West Virginia know Joe Manchin a great deal more than they know Earl Ray Tomblin," Stuart said. "The average voter knows very little to nothing about Earl Ray Tomblin."
In the primary, Tomblin faced criticism from two of his challengers for his ties to the gambling industry and the millions of dollars received by his mother and brother's greyhound breeding interests.
But he was able to remain positive in his ads, with the exception of a direct mail piece that chided his opponents for voting for a fee increase.
Maloney, on the other hand, ran negative ads on his main opponent, former Secretary of State Betty Ireland.
Dabrowski declined to talk about the campaign's strategy for the general election.
But Stuart said, "I think folks want to engage in a pretty good conversation about how you fix the problems, and I don't think that involves a tremendous discussion about the greyhound industry."
But there are questions about party unity from both sides.
In the Democratic Party, it's not clear yet if some of Tomblin's primary opponents — who include House Speaker Rick Thompson — may act as a foil in coming months.
The same could be said of the Republican Party, though, especially given what may be the hard feelings of some in the Ireland camp.
Stuart said Maloney's win was a "painful loss" for Ireland.
"You're going to see Democrats for Maloney and you're going to see Republicans for Tomblin, that's just the way every one of these elections go," he said.
But Stuart said, "What Betty Ireland was campaigning for is for a better West Virginia, a state we don't get under Earl Ray Tomblin's leadership."
Contact writer Ry Rivard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1796.