West Virginia had a rare Saturday gubernatorial primary this weekend. On the Democrat side, Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin won, as expected, in a fairly crowded primary. But on the GOP side, there was something of an upset; first-time candidate BillMaloney beat former Secretary of State Betty Ireland.
As a result, Republican Governor’s Association Executive Director Phil Cox is beating the insider-outsider drum: “Bill Maloney’s victory gives Republicans a great opportunity to win back the governorship. Bill knows what it takes to create jobs and meet a payroll, and that’s exactly the type of experience voters have been responding to in states across the country. Bill will bring a job-creator’s mentality to Charleston, something West Virginia desperately needs. West Virginians know they need an honest leader who will bring new ideas and solutions to the state’s many challenges… Earl Ray Tomblin has been one of the most powerful politicians in the state for more than 15 years, but under his watch too many West Virginians continue to struggle to make ends meet. Meanwhile, critical issues like the Marcellus Shale and solving the state’s debt crisis – which threatens thousands of state workers – have been ignored.”
This will be a difficult climb for Maloney, but not impossible.
The biggest difficulty for Republicans in West Virginia is that West Virginia Democrats continue to successfully persuade the electorate that they’re nothing like Democrats on the national level. Notice how explicitly Maloney invokes Obama in this gubernatorial campaign:
Now look at Tomblin’s most recent ad, which hits his primary rivals and touts his stances for “lower taxes” and attracting businesses and a state chamber of commerce endorsement and endorsement by a coal-producing group. It could easily be mistaken for a GOP ad in most states.
Having watched West Virginia Gov.-turned-Sen. Joe Manchin turn his charm up to 11 in person at the NRA Convention, I can see why the state’s GOP candidates have a hard time capitalizing on the inherent cultural conservatism of the state. I recall a Republican strategist on the Bush 2004 presidential campaign once telling me that he wished every Democrat could sound like Michael Moore: loud, bombastic, sneering and derisive; “It’s not just that he disagrees with you; he’s a man who doesn’t respect you or your values.” Talking the right to bear arms before an NRA audience, Manchin practically oozed sympathy to the audience’s values. Democrats running statewide in this state don’t leave a lot of openings to paint them as out of touch with the state’s values. If Maloney sees an opportunity, he’ll have to pounce.