Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:
West Virginia-01: Rep. Alan Mollohan ousted in primary
Primary: May 11, 2010
Location: Northern West Virginia
Days until Election Day: 22
Veteran Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan's primary defeat may have actually improved his party's chances of holding on to this historically Democratic West Virginia seat.
Mollohan has been beset by ethical questions stemming from a 2006 complaint that he had benefited financially from nonprofit organizations in his state. He has maintained that he did nothing improper, and no charges were ever filed. But in a year that has already proven difficult for incumbents, the controversy opened an opportunity for Democratic state Sen. Mike Oliverio to take on the congressman, who had up until this year encountered few serious challengers during his 14 terms in Congress.
Oliverio soundly defeated Mollohan in the May primary, and now faces Republican David McKinley in the race for West Virginia's northernmost district. Despite a strong Democratic history, Republicans have begun to earn favor in the region, a trend that can be attributed to the Democratic Party's push for more stringent environmental policies that are often at odds with the region's prominent coal mining industry. The Republican nominee has won West Virginia in the last three presidential elections, and Sen. John McCain carried this district by 15 points over then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.
Now McKinley, a former state delegate and former state Republican Party chairman, is vying to win back this Democratic stronghold. On the campaign trail, McKinley espouses a fiscally conservative platform, promising to ban earmarks, end tax-payer funded campaigns, and to end congressional retirement benefits. The Republican has also sought to connect Oliverio, who has said he would "support the Democrats' choice for speaker," with Nancy Pelosi and President Obama, who have never been viewed favorably in the state. In the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Hillary Clinton won West Virginia with 67 percent of the vote over Obama's 26 percent.
But whereas Democrats in other parts of the country have found their popularity decline simply because of their party affiliation, Oliverio may be saved by West Virginia's traditionally loyal Democratic base. A current state Senator, the pro-life, pro-gun Democrat appeals to the state's conservative population. He too has been critical of the health care reform bill, and advocates for fiscal reform.
Nonetheless, both national parties consider the race a nail biter, and have accordingly poured significant resources into the district. The National Republican Congressional Committee named McKinley to its "Young Gun" recruitment program, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Oliverio to its "Red to Blue" program. Both programs provide competitive candidates with financial and strategic support.
Prominent political handicapper Charlie Cook rates this race a "toss up," but notes that Oliverio still has time to swing the race back in his favor. The two candidates both have just over $300,000 cash on hand, strong support from their respective political parties, and positions that are at times complementary. This race may come down to whether the district's Democratic base comes through for their candidate in November.