CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin secured his first full term as governor on Tuesday by defeating Republican Bill Maloney.
Maloney conceded about 10:30 p.m. Tomblin is expected to speak shortly thereafter at a Charleston hotel.
Tomblin's two years in office and message of stability trumped Maloney's wide-ranging critiques of his performance in office.
Maloney, a retired Morgantown businessman, argued West Virginia Democrats and Tomblin have failed too many public school students and unemployed workers.
But voters decided not to blame Tomblin for that. Voters also rejected Republican efforts to tie the conservative Democratic governor to Democratic President Barack Obama, who lost the state soundly to Republican Mitt Romney.
Tomblin, a four-decade veteran of Charleston politics, also received the backing of nearly every state special interest group.
Despite sitting in the Governor's Office for two years now, Tomblin has always worn an uneasy crown.
First, he was an un-elected "acting governor" by virtue of being state Senate president when Joe Manchin left the Governor's Office for the U.S. Senate in November 2010.
In spring 2011, Tomblin had to fend off other prominent Democrats to win his party's nomination. Then, he faced Maloney in the October 2011 special election for a one-year term.
After only narrowly beating Maloney last fall, Tomblin had to face him all over again. The back-to-back face offs, which amounted to one 17-month-long political marathon, were nearly identical in tone and substance, which often seemed slim.
All told, this meant two years of Tomblin in charge but always under the threat of defeat. His critics have accused him of avoiding tough issues like education reform because of the looming elections. Now, with a full four-year term in his pocket, he may have more room to make the governorship his own.
Now, the question is if Tomblin -- who is said to be non-confrontation and even shy -- will attempt to boldly captain the ship of state or if he will continue to be a quiet backroom consensus-seeker.
His low-key strategy has borne results. In 2011, he successfully eliminated a two-decade-old tax on food, which was put in place when the state was on the verge of bankruptcy in the late-1980s. Earlier this year, he helped eliminate a $10 billion liability the state faced after making generous pension promises to retired public workers.
But what lies ahead could prove ever more daunting.
The coal industry -- West Virginia's long-time boom and bust bread and butter -- says it is mortally threatened by federal regulations. But even without those regulations, officials project steep declines in Appalachian coal production because of geologic and economic factors.
In Charleston, the administration must continue to struggle to balance the budget amid a $180 million shortfall in the Medicaid program, which ensures 420,000 low-income West Virginians.
The administration must also decide whether it will opt into a key part of the Obama administration's health care reform effort. If it did, the state could expand its Medicaid program to ensure 130,000 more low-income people. But Tomblin has wavered because of the costs, though the federal government will pick up much of the tab.
And, of course, West Virginia faces perennial problems: public schools that compare poorly to schools in other states, a chronically low number of people who participate in the workforce and several concurrent and interrelated public health epidemics, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and drug addiction.
Tomblin, 60, was first elected to represent Logan County in the state House of Delegates in 1974 while he still was studying business at West Virginia University.
In 1980, he won a seat in the Senate. He was immediately in leadership. By 1995, he was elected Senate president, a post he held longer than anyone in state history.
There were a number of also-rans, including Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson. He appeared on track to receive about 2 percent of the vote. The party had to win more than 1 percent of the vote in each regular gubernatorial election to be able to automatically get its candidates on the ballot along with Democrats and Republicans.
This year, Maloney did not receive as much aid from the Republican Governors Association as he did during last year's special election. The outside group's decision to stop spending money in the race several weeks ago could have marked a turning point in the race: it cost Maloney air cover even as the Democratic Governors Association continued to help the Tomblin campaign attack Maloney.