West Virginia gubernatorial election in national spotlight
West Virginia state capitol
October 3rd, 2011
10:08 PM ET
3 years ago

West Virginia gubernatorial election in national spotlight

(CNN) - Voters head to the polls in West Virginia on Tuesday in a gubernatorial contest in which national Republicans are trying to tie the Democratic governor to President Barack Obama. And the contest is firmly in the national political spotlight, thanks to an infusion of big bucks that has fueled campaign ad wars over the past three weeks.

The acting governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, faces off against businessman Bill Maloney, the Republican nominee. Tomblin, the long-serving state Senate president, took over as governor last autumn after then-Gov. Joe Manchin, a fellow Democrat, was elected to fill the term of the late Sen. Robert Byrd. Besides Maloney and Tomblin, three independent or third-party candidates are on the ballot. The winner will fill out the final year of Manchin's gubernatorial term.

Late last week the Republican Governors Association went up with its final TV commercial of the campaign, which tries to tie Tomblin to the president, with the narrator saying that "A majority of America's governors are fighting in court to stop Obamacare, but Earl Ray Tomblin is implementing Obamacare in West Virginia. Obamacare will jack up taxes on businesses. Destroy jobs. Stop Obama. Stop Tomblin from implementing Obamacare."

Maloney is trying to frame the election as a campaign to defeat Obama, saying it "starts Tuesday, here in West Virginia."

In an interview with National Journal over the weekend, Tomblin appeared to be distancing himself from the president. "There are certain areas that I disagree with the president on completely, and I will continue to fight that even though he may be in my party," he said.

Tomblin's teaming up with another Democrat instead of the president.

In the final television commercial of his campaign, Tomblin went up last Wednesday on West Virginia airwaves with an ad that highlighted the support he's getting from Manchin, one of the most popular politicians in the state.

"Working together, we put our state's financial house in order," Manchin says in the ad, as he stands next to Tomblin.

The ad continues with Tomblin saying that since he took over as governor, he's continued to cut taxes and balance the budget. The commercial concludes with Manchin saying that "Earl Ray is the right man to keep West Virginia on the right course for a better future."

The ad wars in the contest have heated up in the past three weeks. Commercials from the Democratic Governors Association have characterized Maloney as an out-of-touch businessman in one spot, and a greedy businessman in another. The RGA fired back with ads describing Tomblin as a career politician and suggesting that he's used his years in the state legislature to benefit his family's greyhound breeding business

Tomblin won the major union endorsements, but just as important was the backing he received from the state Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association, two groups that typically support GOP candidates.

Though Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans in the state, the race appeared to tighten as Election Day neared.

Because of the heating up of the ad wars, and because of the Democrats' loss last month in a well-publicized special congressional election in a district long dominated by the party, the contest in West Virginia is now firmly in the national political spotlight.

"This race had stalled out, but once Republicans brought Obama into the game, the race started to shift in their direction. Tomblin might still win, but there's no question that the president made his life more difficult," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

But Democrats shouldn't see it as a great victory for the party if Tomblin wins, Gonzales said.

"National Democrats shouldn't take much comfort in a Tomblin victory. Tomblin pulled together a coalition of the Chamber of Commerce, unions and the NRA in order to survive. There aren't many other Democrats that will be able to do that in 2012," Gonzales added.

– Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @PSteinhauserCNN

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Filed under: Joe Manchin • West Virginia
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. CSM

    Whatever. We will see in 2012. Those who distance themselves from the POTUS now will kiss his add come Jan 2013. Oh, BTW, WVa one of the poorest of poor states stumbling just ahead of Ms and if its people choose cake over substance...Let them eat Cake. Teapubs don't give a hoot about them or their 'cold' mine, hillbilly, no health care poverty. There. I said it.

    October 3, 2011 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  2. Eva

    I live in WV and will vote for Tomblin...The repugs can't seem to make up their minds about the money the Governor supposedly secured for his family's business...it started at $1 million...I have watched it grow to 2 then 3 and now 4 million...what does that tell you about the integrity if the repub teabaggers?

    October 4, 2011 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  3. A Democrat in North Carolina

    A win is a win no matter how you try to slice its still a win!

    October 4, 2011 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  4. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    If they keep the seat, then it is maintaining the status quo. The question is if the GOP wins the seat, how much of a stink will they make of it.

    October 4, 2011 07:16 am at 7:16 am |
  5. Seattle Sue

    If I were a voter in West Virginia, I would really take a hard look as to what has been happening in States that elected Republican/Tea Party Governors last year. States such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, New Jersey and others. It is not a pretty picture as to what is happening in these States.

    October 4, 2011 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  6. TEG

    And yet I seem to recall this being another state that the Democrats have had control of the Governors Mansion and the Legislature for almost 50 years and have ran that state into the ground of course the Republicans are to blame because there doesn't have to be any facts in a Liberal Strawman Arguement

    October 4, 2011 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  7. John, PA

    If it's a loss for the Democrats, it reflects the current state of mind in the country. If the Democratic Party continues to support Obama and not run another candidate; you will see the Democrats get massacred in the 2012 election. There won’t be enough Democrats left to call it a party.

    October 4, 2011 09:54 am at 9:54 am |