14 May 2011

Governor’s Election Redux; Every Voter got 10 Votes!

The latest in the stunning (or mindnumbing?) series of elections is the books.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin cruised to the Democratic nomination, and first time candidate businessman Bill Maloney upset former Secretary of State Betty Ireland for the Republicans. This sets up a hammer and tongs, knives in the night general election for October 4th.

The Democrats:

Gov. Tomblin, ran a smart campaign. By far, he was the most organized and had the most effective staff. Of course, he started out with some minor “incumbent points.” It’s easier to run a good campaign when you’re out in front. It was good campaign anyway. He stayed on message and did not react in effectively when his opponents got squirrelly.

Gov. ERT’s challenge for the October general election will be to ward off a vicious Republican attack which will be both direct (his known advocacy for dog racing, gambling and so forth) and by innuendo (he’s an old-time political leader from Logan County). The Republican candidate demonstrated his willingness to go to both hammer and knife in his own primary.

Another challenge which Gov. ERT has is to unify the Democratic Party behind him, to the extent the Democratic Party ever gets genuinely unified. The also-rans cooperated on an “Anybody but Earl Ray” campaign theme the last couple of weeks of the election and although their blades were not all that sharp, nor wielded very intelligently, they still created a good bit of dissension.

At the Democrat Club in Fairmont tonight, I had a couple of interesting conversations about whether Gov. ERT will extend some sort of “amnesty” to the people who attacked him and not administer the considerable paybacks that a sitting governor can in exchange for their getting on board.

Okay, so that sounds crass. This is politics, not teatime at the Little Church in the Valley.

House Speaker Rick Thompson ran a decent campaign. As I’ve written before, I thought the guitar strumming and singing on the log cabin steps was hokey hogwash, but that wasn’t aimed at me and I think it was probably pretty effective. He garnered the endorsements of the AFL-CIO and Mineworkers unions. ERT beat him about 5:3, and so for I don’t know how effective the unions were in turning out their people. I do think that these endorsements damaged the unions, the AFL – CIO more than the Mineworkers. I’m wondering if this showing will encourage Rick Thompson to run again in the primary in May 2012.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant ran a decent third, which is about where I expected her. She has won a statewide election but I don’t think her governor’s campaign ever really connected or ever develop a coherent theme. Perhaps the confusion and dithering from her about the special election after Senator Byrd died had something to do with that.

I’m surprised how poorly State Treasurer. John Purdue placed. Here let me note that campaigning skill and governing skill don’t have a real close relationship. Big John is my friend. He has done a good job as treasurer and has a strong record in government. He started campaigning too late, but developed a message and spun up a good campaign. He developed the “Big John” brand, and a moderately memorable country-type “Big John” song, and was hitting the opponents effectively on economic issues. And then, about a month ago, his campaign flamed out, wandered away from the brand, wandered from the message and finally went ineffectively negative against ERT. It was really a pitiful failure of campaign staff. More in a minute.

As I predicted some weeks back, State Senate acting president Jeff Kessler never got off the ground.

Characterizing one feature of the last 10 days the Democratic campaign is an exercise in restraint. A loosely formed group, “Mountaineers to Restore the American Dream” mounted a city to city caravan-campaign on the theme “Earl Ray is a SOB.” Okay, the real theme was something like “Anybody But Earl Ray,” but my title for it more accurately describes their message. How to describe this campaign? Ill-advised? Yeah, that works. Ineffective? I expect so. Nitwit! Yes, that’s the word I’m looking for, nitwit!

The group had a nifty theme song, “Goodbye Earl” which, as some of you may know, is the same title as a song from about 10 years ago by the Dixie Chicks. Well, they used the same tune, same sorts of voices and damn near the same lyrics. They claim this was “fair use” under the copyright law because it was a parody. I disagree because it was a quasi-commercial use. In any event, ERT did not rise to the bait on the copyright issue. Their song gratuitously linked the acting governor in a political conspiracy with Sen. Manchin, currently the most popular political figure in the state. No doubt, the MRAD people believed that this was true and ideologically pure, but it was so stunningly nitwit-ish that it blows right through pathos directly to bathos. Of the people who might have been receptive to a purely negative approach, how many were Manchin supporters who turned it off as soon as they heard the attack on their guy? Moreover, you can turn out a good crowd to curse Osama bin Laden. Going negative against anybody else is much more effectively done quietly. The ball to keep the eye on is what people will do in the voting booth. So a negative campaign is directed at the hearer’s votes and what they will tell their intimates and friends BEFORE the election. Not many people are willing to turn out on the street and shout about what a son of a bitch this or that candidate may be. Because a negative campaign, to be effective, is not an audience participation model, it needs to be long and steady.

The Republicans:

My prediction that Betty Ireland would not have any trouble in the primary was the most inaccurate election prediction I have made in 39 years of doing that. Part of the reason is I’m so out of touch with TV and radio media these days, but if I’m going to be predicting, I need to get the hell back in touch with them.

Businessman Bill Maloney rode the illogical yet persuasive “Fight Obama” horse and swore ideological conservative purity. Betty Ireland ran a straightforward and positive campaign with enough bones thrown to the party hard-core that I thought she would keep them in line.

Republicans are a minority party in West Virginia. Candidate Maloney will not have a problem holding nearly all votes of the Republicans who turn out in October. Here’s a secret: It has long been conventional wisdom that the Democrats rely on old-time, loyal straight ticket voters. But the Republicans are much more reliable straight ticket voters than Democrats in West Virginia. The Republicans do not often make the one straight-ticket-vote mark but rather go through race by race and mark each Republican, which has the same effect. Betty Ireland has previously attracted the support of some “soft” Democrats. It will be interesting to see if candidate Maloney modifies his message in any way to try to hit the same people. Even if he does, he has the proverbial tough row to hoe. However, he showed a willingness to go to the knife against Betty Ireland, and he and his staff will be cleaning and sharpening all the knives by Sunday morning.

Okay, how do I figure every voter got 10 votes? The population of West Virginia is 1,860,000. There are 1,180,000 registered voters in West Virginia. 15.4 percent of them, 182,000, actually voted. Registered voters to real voters: 6:1. Citizens to real voters: 10:1. Another way to look at it is that 4.2 % percent of the registered voters nominated the Democratic candidate (2.6 % of the population) and 2.3 % of the registered voters nominated Republican candidate (1.4 % of the population).

Isn’t getting something like 10 votes a reason to vote on October 4th?


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