October 11th, 2010
08:00 AM ET
12 years ago

CNN 100: Democratic stronghold in West Virginia up for grabs

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.

Filed under: 2010 • CNN 100 • West Virginia
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. SethC

    You must consider that these uneducated people, do not know what changes are needed in Washington. They will hold on to what they have been taught by either ethnic, family, traditions, and just plain stubbornness.

    October 11, 2010 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  2. diridi

    WV, go for Democrats....once, Volt, leaf of Nissan, and Cherry roll on the roads, Gas will be cheap....may be 20 cents a galan....obama is on energy policies, this nation needed for 150 years....Just vote any Dem....GOP thugs messed this nation like a hell....true, true, true and nothing but true....so on GOP....

    October 11, 2010 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  3. King

    Why the repugs want to take money from the poor by taking away government jobs and money. Dont they know the poor spend the most money in the local economy to stimulate job growth. Without their small business will be a ghost town.

    October 11, 2010 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  4. Fair is Fair

    Poor, poor Nancy... I bet she was getting really comfortable in that private 747. And I bet she's thrilled that John Boehner is going to be riding in it for at least the next 2 years.

    October 11, 2010 09:56 am at 9:56 am |