Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin Wins West Virginia Governor’s Race

AP Photo

Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin prevailed over Republican Bill Maloney in Tuesday’s special election in West Virginia to fill the last 14 months of now- Sen. Joe Manchin’s gubernatorial term.

The Associated Press called the race in Tomblin’s favor just after 9 p.m. With 84 percent of precincts reporting, Tomblin led by 6,108 votes, beating Maloney 49 percent to 47 percent.

“The people of West Virginia saw through the millions of dollars in outside money sent from the wealthy and corporate special interests to influence this election,” Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement congratulating Tomblin. “Instead, they voted for Governor Tomblin—someone who, like President Obama, has his eye on the ball—working to create jobs, educate children and win the future.”

Tomblin has served as acting governor since Manchin vacated the seat last November after winning a special election to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s seat.

Though Democrats held on to the governor’s mansion Tuesday night, there was a silver lining for the GOP. Republicans were able to draw on the unpopularity of President Obama to make the contest much tighter than expected.

Democrats hold a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans in the state, but low turnout for mid-October, off-year election virtually erased that Democratic edge.  There has been a Democrat in the governor’s mansion since 1996, although West Virginia has voted strongly for Republicans in the past three presidential races.

This race has not been painted as a referendum on the president to the extent that the special election in New York 9th District was, but it shines a spotlight on the challenges Democrats face in winning an election at a time when the president is suffering from a, which stands at 30 percent in West Virginia.

Tomblin will have little time to enjoy his victory, before he will have to again ramp up the campaign machine to defend the governor’s mansion in 2012.

Throughout the contest Republicans tried to paint Tomblin as a career politician who supported Obama’s policies while Democrats tried to portray Maloney as an out-of-touch millionaire who moved jobs out of the state.

Tomblin has served in the state Legislature for nearly four decades. Maloney is a former drilling company executive who has never held public office.

Tomblin emerged with an early polling lead over Maloney, but after weeks of attack ads linking him to an unpopular President Obama, Tomblin’s polling advantage dwindled in the final weeks of the race.

The Republican Governors Association poured $3.4 million into the special election, running attack ads tying Tomblin to the health reform law, which many Republicans call “Obamacare.”

“A majority of America’s governors are fighting in court to stop Obamacare. But Earl Ray Tomblin is implementing Obamacare in West Virginia,” the ad says. “Stop Obama. Stop Tomblin from implementing Obamacare.”

RGA spokesman Mike Shrimpf said Tomblin’s late tumble in the polls “shows that the message is working.”

America Works USA, a group backed by the Democratic Governor’s Association, spent about $2.4 million on the race.

DGA spokesman Lis Smith said Republican’s attempts to nationalize the race in the last two weeks were nothing more than a “hail Mary.” Smith said tying Tomblin to Obama was a “real stretch,” especially after the acting governor sparred with the Obama Administration over coal mining regulations.

And while the attack ads did not translate into a win for Maloney, many pundits point to the RGA connecting Tomblin to the president as a major factor in turning what was once seen as an easy win for Democrats into a toss-up race.

“Obama was the factor in making this close,” said Rothenberg Political Report’s Nathan Gonzales. “Of course Obama has never been popular in West Virginia, but it is striking that Republicans could take such a loose connection and make it stick to Tomblin.”