John Raese is West Virginia’s most respectable also-ran. In 1984, he ran for Senate and lost to then-governor John Rockefeller by four points. In 1988, he challenged sitting governor Arch Moore in the Republican primary and lost by six points. In 2006, he contested Sen. Robert Byrd’s reelection and was crushed. But at least he tried.
Now, Raese wants to serve the remainder of the late Byrd’s term. In his way stands another political titan, Gov. Joe Manchin. Sixty-seven percent of West Virginians approve of Manchin’s performance, Rasmussen Reports found in a poll released yesterday. Yet Rasmussen also found that 62 percent of voters disapproved of President Obama’s performance and that Raese trailed the governor by only five points.
Manchin’s staff has dismissed the results. But in a world where Joe Miller can dethrone Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Raese may be a shorter shot than expected.
The president and chief executive officer of Greer Industries, Raese controls several media companies in the state, including the West Virginia Newspaper Publishing Corporation and the West Virginia Radio Corporation. He also controls a fair amount of wealth: Raese has poured $500,000 of his fortune into the campaign so far.
Raese’s business background may be most helpful to his image. “I’m John Raese and I’m a conservative businessman,” his ads typically begin. “I’ve created a lot of good jobs . . . here in West Virginia. But Washington just isn’t working.” And who better — it seems — than a businessman to fix it?
Not that Raese supports every feel-good measure for business. When asked about Democrats’ plans to increase government loans to small businesses, Raese tells National Review Online, “It’s a little ginger and icing; it doesn’t really mean anything.” Instead, Raese suggests that Congress lower the tax on corporate income from 35 to 20 percent.
Economists Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong argue that because of deductions, the corporate tax is actually not that onerous. Raese rejects this argument. “They must not have businesses, because I do, and it’s a major-league item. Regulation is too. We are just overregulated. Regulations are costing American businesses today around $1.2 trillion,” he says, referring to a recent study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Yet Raese is not a libertarian. Unlike some tea partiers, he believes government should offer unemployment insurance: “Government has to have a little soul to it. There’s nothing worse than to lay people off, and I’ve had that experience. . . . As long as you have unemployment insurance that is revenue-neutral, I don’t have a problem with that. I just don’t like it when they start printing money.”
No, Raese is a conservative, and his model is Ronald Reagan, whom he often invokes — especially when discussing foreign policy. For instance, he sums up his approach to the War on Terror with Reagan’s approach to the Cold War: “We win. They lose.” Raese also thinks a renewed commitment to a Strategic Defense Initiative is “something we ought to take a hard look at.” It’s not surprising, then, that Raese believes President Obama should have given Gen. Stanley McChrystal more troops in Afghanistan. “When a general asks for a certain number of men, you give him that number of men,” he says.
Also like Reagan, Raese wants to abolish the Department of Education, and he defends Robert Bork, Reagan’s ill-fated nominee to the Supreme Court. “I thought he had more qualities than probably anybody else ever nominated to the Supreme Court. I watched what the Democratic party did. It was all political.” Generally, Raese respects the president’s right to have nominees appointed, but he thinks President Obama’s picks have been too radical. He warns Republicans to “remember what happened to Judge Bork.” Raese may be in a time warp, but if ever there were a year in which to invoke Reagan, 2010 would be it.
Of course, Raese has his problems. In particular, the media doesn’t share his comedic taste. On a recent radio show, Raese compared Manchin, who is of Italian descent, to Tony Soprano. Immediately, the media proclaimed him insensitive. In his defense, Raese quotes comedian Jonathan Winters: “The trouble with America today is that we’ve lost our sense of humor.”
Whatever Raese’s faults, they haven’t stopped him from coming close to Manchin in the polls. And President Obama’s approval rating seems to be a key factor in races this year.
In his ads, Raese tells voters he won’t be a “rubber stamp” for Obama. And by making that promise, this perennial political bridesmaid may finally catch the bouquet.
– Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.