As close as businessman and first-time candidate Bill Maloney came last night to becoming only the third Republican governor of West Virginia since 1932, the hopes of Republicans in Washington, D.C., and throughout the Mountaineer State fell short. With near-final results in, the 52-year-old Maloney lost to Democratic incumbent Earl Ray Tomblin by a margin of 50% to 47%, the remainder going to the candidate of the Mountain (Green) Party. So another Democrat will finish the remaining year of the term of former Gov. Joe Manchin (whose election to the U.S. Senate last fall resulted in the succession to the governorship of State Senate President Tomblin and the special election Oct. 4).
But in coming as close as he did and almost breaking the historic pattern of Democratic rule in the West Virginia statehouse, Maloney clearly paved the way for a rematch with Tomblin in 2012.
Political newcomer and staunch conservative Maloney came as close as he did to political warhorse (37 years in the state legislature) Tomblin by running on themes that resonate with conservatives nationwide. Along with a platform of ending waste in state government and expanding West Virginia’s drilling for oil and gas, the GOP hopeful hit hard at Tomblin’s refusal to join in the suits by other states on the constitutionality of ObamaCare.
“Those TV spots at the end really linked Tomblin to ObamaCare,” former State GOP Vice Chairman Lynn Staton told HUMAN EVENTS days before the vote, referring to a television barrage unleashed by the Republican Governors Association (RGA) political action committee. “And they are working. Folks here hate ObamaCare, and they don’t like Obama much, either.”
On the Friday before the voting, a PPP poll statewide showed Tomblin leading Maloney by a margin of 46% to 40% among likely voters. By Tuesday morning, after the RGA ads had been run the most intensively for a few days and voters were going to the polls, the same poll showed Tomblin leading by only a wafer-thin margin of 47% to 46%.
Clearly, the assault on ObamaCare—and Maloney’s campaign as an outsider who would straighten out government—packed a punch.
But it was not a knockout punch. Tomblin had the backing of the entire West Virginia “establishment”—the state Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association, the state AFL-CIO, and the United Mine Workers (UMW). State sources who talked to HUMAN EVENTS explained that this support stemmed from the historical odds favoring a Democratic win and the fact that if beaten for governor, Tomblin would go back to being senate president and, as one source put it, “remember who was with him and who wasn’t.”
In addition, the get-out-the-vote “infantry” that is the AFL-CIO and UMW have historically helped West Virginia Democrats win by bigger margins than polls show. Last year, for example, most preelection polls showed a tight Senate race between Democrat Manchin and Republican John Raese. Manchin won by a margin larger than any poll indicated in strong part because he had the union-fueled troops to turn out the Democratic vote. So, obviously, did Tomblin.
In contrast to the establishment-minted Tomblin, Bill Maloney appeared to be a political “Mr. Outside.” A graduate of Lehigh University with an engineering degree, he launched a two-man company that sold drilling parts and turned it into a multimillion dollar business by the time he sold it. In his maiden political voyage, the businessman-candidate upset the favorite of GOP party regulars in the primary.
Although West Virginia gave its five electoral votes to John McCain in ’08 and twice to George W. Bush, the Mountaineer State has otherwise been a political “no-man’s land” for the GOP. Republicans have only held the governor’s mansion for 20 of the last 78 years, have not elected a Republican U.S. senator since 1952, and have sent only four Republicans to Congress in the last half-century.
But in doing as well as he did last night, Bill Maloney demonstrated that an unabashed conservative message can generate support. It wasn’t enough to win in 2011, but it just might be in 2012, when Gov. Tomblin shares the ballot with Barack Obama.