Handicapping the Governor’s Election
The welcome visitors to No. 3 from beyond the borders of Mother West Virginia may find this even more deathly go than the standard fare here. And yet, all politics is local and this year we have an exasperating off-year political extravaganza.
Recall that our beloved Sen. Byrd died in June 2010. In the special election for that seat, Gov. Manchin moved to Washington, Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin became acting governor, and the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ordered that a special election take place for the governor’s position in 2011, even though the regular four year term will be on the 2010 ballot.
The primary winners of this katzenjammer so far:
* Political consultants
* Anybody who sells political advertising
* The West Virginia Republican Party, because as a minority party, any time they can get something in play, the worst can happen is that it doesn’t hurt them.
It’s perilous (and scurrilous?) to identify the “losers” so far, so I will refrain.
The unseen danger to the body politic is that the rush to create “excitement” about this or that candidate must become so shrill to get any attention at all that we are burning out the give-a-shit circuits of all but the hardiest citizens. This is a real danger. If people become so fed up with the political process that it takes Dancing Bears giving away ice cream cones to make an impression, elections will have zero to do with governance.
One of my very favorite avocations is handicapping political races. In doing so, I often annoy people because some of my predictions and observations do not favor their candidate. They see this as some sort of intentional negative juju. In fact, while the actions of individuals is hard to predict, trends and actions of masses of individuals (like voters) are subject prognostication even though there are a lot of variables. If you confuse what you want to happen with what the evidence suggests will happen, you aren't very useful in politics. (Nor anything else, for that matter.)
Each election, I post my “predictions” ballot in some semi-public place, and I have a fairly decent record of accuracy. It’s not time to post my final predictions ballot yet. But I’m ready to do some preliminary handicapping.
The primary election:
There are eight candidates in the primary. Betty Ireland will run the table. The other candidates are Clark Barnes, Mitch Carmichael, Ralph William Clark, Cliff Ellis, Larry Faircloth, Bill Maloney and Mark Sorsaia. This is not to say that the others are particularly unqualified or weak. Mr. Faircloth is from the Eastern Panhandle, and the eventual November winner has to do well in the Panhandle. (The Eastern Panhandle has been largely ignored by Charleston for decades. Its population has grown so much, politicos cannot ignore it any more.) Mr. Maloney is a “fresh face” with a really strong financial base, but it’ll be too late to organize a win. The others largely have a regional following.
As an organization, Republicans have done poorly in West Virginia, although there is a history of some “bright stars” breaking out of the pack. Ms. Ireland and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito are the current Republican “stars” in West Virginia. The only problem I see for Ms. Ireland in the primary is manageable – the louder parts of the Republican base want to focus on torchlight parades against Obama and irrelevant crap like that. It’s probably a bother to keep those folks amused. But since Ireland is the only game in town, they’ll fall in line, at least for a while.
The Democratic Party:
Uh oh, we have the “cup runneth over” problem. There are six candidates. One of them, Arne Moltis, is a nonstarter. The others, in no particular order, have some measure of viability. The knives are coming out in the primary. Can you spell “fratricide”? The key to the general election in October (not November) is how much damage the party does to itself the primary process.
Jeff Kessler - Sen. Kessler led a successful minor putsch in the State Senate this year. He remains mostly a regional candidate (Northern Panhandle) and I’ll be surprised if he catches fire.
John Perdue - Mr. Purdue is currently the state treasurer. He is smart, highly qualified and very experienced. He has very little charisma and generally is not a good politician, which is emblematic of an unfortunate weakness in the entire political process. It will be hard for him to communicate his experience, because he’s not been a self-promoter in the past. It’s hard to communicate competence in 30 second ads. Also, Mr. Perdue speaks with a very thick accent which is somewhat off-putting.
Natalie Tennant - She is the current Secretary of State. It is a reality that gender is still very relevant and being the only woman Democrat candidate will help her. To the extent anybody was watching, she wounded herself in the dithering around over the Senate special election. However, I don’t think very many people were watching. Since she has won a high-profile statewide race (by burying a labor-backed candidate), she will run strongly.
Rick Thompson - I went to law school with Speaker Thompson. He’s a decent fellow. Importantly for me, my good friend House Judiciary Chair Tim Miley is strongly supporting Speaker Thompson. Mr. Thompson has a decent war chest (still not enough to go through October) and one of his biggest campaign assets is his wife, Beth Thompson. She’s one of the most effective campaigners I’ve ever seen. Mr. Thompson has the labor endorsement, which is risky for labor but that’s not his problem. However, if he pushes one of the favorite labor positions (collective bargaining for public employees), he will alienate himself right out of contention. It is early advertising, Speaker Thompson has been channeling Abe Lincoln by sitting on the steps of a log cabin strumming a guitar and singing. Well, I’m not his target audience so my opinion that this is appallingly hokey probably doesn’t count for much.
Earl Ray Tomblin - Gov.Tomblin is an old-time political boss from Logan County. That’s not a pejorative – I have friends in Logan County and I like the idea of politics without lots of pretty decals on it. Mr. Tomblin stepped in the day that Governor Manchin left town and took charge of the place. At the time, I admired his chutzpah, and it showed audacious unashamed personal leadership. I think he went overboard as the weeks went on, particularly by changing the names on the welcome signs at the borders, posting official photographs and so forth. Anecdotally, I’m hearing some “incumbent credits,” because of her comments like “Well, the guy there now is doing a pretty good job.” Mr. T has by far the strongest set of advisors and staff around him. The smartest candidate (whoever that is) will run a positive campaign and let the others attack Gov. Tomblin. But he won't go down easily and if he clears the primary, paybacks will be hell.
The real challenge for Democratic Party leaders will be to survive this primary intact to then face a very strong race with one or the Republican Party stars.
Once again, we have reserved the radio ad spaces for some local stations on election night. I personally write those and I personally record those. How to capture a little bit of the frustration of this whole process is going to be a challenge in short ad, particularly since I insist on making it something positive. I’ll make a stab at posting the audio when it’s done.
It’ll be a long, hot summer.