The “Anything Can Happen Primary” is now underway. Just to get us here the Governor went to the U. S. Senate, an Acting Governor took office, and the Supreme Count mandated an election, the Legislature rightly disregarded party conventions and put a primary election in its place.
The field is full of politicians known and unknown and other who want to be. Some have money, others have taxpayers’ money and some are just “rolling the dice”.
First let’s look at the Democrat race.
Even before West Virginians knew if, when or how they would get a new Governor a two candidate race was apparent among Democrats. Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin knew if Governor Manchin went to the U. S. Senate the state Constitution would make him Governor. And the aggressive Secretary of State Natalie Tennant would never pass up a chance to be Governor without having to give up her office to run.
This two person race was confirmed before Tomblin became Governor. A survey conducted in November by West Virginia’s leading pollster Mark Blankenship found 24% of Democratic voters for Tomblin with Tennant close behind at 19%. Other potential Democrat candidates were in single digit. Undecided was 25%.
Nothing changed when a North Carolina firm, Public Policy Polling released a January survey. There was no match up of Tomblin and Tennant but Democrats surveyed approved by 53% the job Tomblin is doing as Governor and 52% had a favorable opinion of Tennant.
The single digit candidates must work strategically and hard to turn around the primary race. State Treasurer John Perdue has smartly decided to run against escalating electricity, gas and water bills. He has placed government paid staff across the state, offices in various places and has been in the grassroots of the Democrat party for years.
House Speaker Thompson has raised funds, attended events across the state and has a readymade field team, the Democrat members of the Legislature. Each of them could turn on their “turnout” machine for “the boss”. They all realize he controls the process that will redraw legislative district lines and every member wants a favorable district in which to run in 2012.
Northern West Virginia Senator Jeffrey Kessler (D-Marshall) would have been better positioned had he not messed up the Tomblin Senate. He has been running for nearly two years and seemed to be a new voice. He got power hungry and lead a revolt to change senate rules to make himself “Acting Senate President” when Tomblin was directed by the Constitution to become Governor.
Kessler will have trouble turning around southern WV. Tomblin comes from there and Kessler threw out Senator Truman Chafin (D-Mingo) as Senate Majority Leader. Another serious geographical problem for Kessler is the heavily Democrat counties who have elected Senator Walt Helmick (D-Pocahontas) for years. “Acting Senate President” Kessler ordered Helmick removed as Chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. His turnaround will be difficult and expensive.
An unknown Democrat from Kanawha County, Arne Moltis has entered the race.
The Republicans have more candidates but most are unknown. Maybe one of the unknown will become the next Governor. The party has depended upon the same names for years Moore, Underwood, Capito and Raese.
Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, a sure winner to be the next Governor declared she would not run.
The first to enter was former Secretary of State Betty Ireland.
Ireland from her previous service has some name ID but the Public Policy Polling survey found 50% of Republicans were not sure of her. Only 38% of GOP voters had a favorable opinion. She hired a team of consultants from outside the state which would give the appearance of a well funded and nationally connected campaign.
Others must have sensed she is not in a favorable position in the party and the race grew with seven others filing by last Saturday.
Mark Sorsaia, prosecuting attorney from Putnam County could be the sleeper in the primary. He began exploring the race more than a year ago, travelled to Lincoln Day Dinners and did an extensive mailing at the holiday season. He knows how to get elected having won four races in Putnam. He must introduce himself quickly to Republican voters across the state but will run well in his home county and Cabell. Ireland will lose votes to Sorsaia in Kanawha if he picks up the pace.
Delegate Mitch B. Carmichael (R-Jackson) enters late which does not help his chances – if this is what he is after. He has served ten years in the House of Delegates and should have the help of his GOP colleagues. Carmichael may be working on name ID for 2012 or this might be his way to gaining support to lead House Republicans in the future.
Senator Clark Barnes (R-Randolph) was beginning to look like the Republican winner with all the names being mentioned from the Kanawha Valley as candidates. He would have had eastern and central WV all to himself. At the last minute most decided to stay out and former House member Larry Faircloth of Martinsburg filed. Faircloth ran statewide for Governor in 2004.
Three little known Monongalia residents came from nowhere Cliff Ellis, Ralph William Clark and Bill Maloney. These candidates impact Barnes who must have hoped to carry central WV. More needs to be known about these three candidates to factor them into any analysis.
The “Anything Can Happen Primary” will be won on strategy, turnout, ideas and money.