West Virginia has disappointed Republicans tonight.
The Associated Press has called it for Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin, the state-senate president who became acting governor when Joe Manchin was elected to the Senate.
At this late hour, Tomblin has 49.21 percent; Republican Bill Maloney has 47.35 percent. The silver lining for Republicans is that this is easily the closest statewide race in recent memory. The bad news for Republicans is that they had a lot of factors working in their favor tonight: the low turnout of a special election (less than 25 percent, according to the early numbers), Tomblin’s status as an incumbent who can be blamed for the current flaws of the state government while never winning statewide election before; and the sterling character and résumé of their challenger, Maloney:
For starters, he has never served in any government job before. He founded North American Drillers in 1984, a company that started by drilling 24-inch support shafts for mines and expanded until it was capable of handling jobs as large as 18-foot-diameter shafts. Maloney sold his share of the company in 2006. During a family vacation in Cape May, N.J., last year, he heard details about the plight of the trapped Chilean miners; the Chilean government expected them to be rescued on a four-month timeline, and Maloney felt compelled to devise a plan that could work more quickly.
“I had known all along that I would end up in Chile, working to rescue those miners,” Maloney later recalled. “We arrived at the mine site in Chile on September 4, and timely planning and good fortune enabled us to begin drilling with DTH technology on September 5. Center Rock had fabricated the drilling equipment required for Plan B in days instead of the weeks usually required due to the specialized parts that are made per individual project requirements. . . . While the drillers lost and wore out numerous drill bits, they were still able to reach the underground mine workshop at 8:05 a.m. on October 9.” Maloney describes his role in the Chilean-miner rescue in detail here.
In the run-up to the race, Washington Republicans were emphasizing the caution in their cautious optimism; outside of presidential races, West Virginia is a pretty reliably Democratic state, at least in statewide elections.
The Public Policy Polling survey foresaw a close race, putting Tomblin at 47 percent and Maloney at 46 percent. But as the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.