WASHINGTON—Playing on a theme popular nationwide this election season, the two U.S. Senate candidates from West Virginia seem intent on out-dueling each other for top “anti-Washington” billing.
Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin was once considered a shoo-in to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd. Surprisingly, however, recent polls indicate he is about deadlocked with Republican business mogul John Raese.
Their latest attempts to boost that coveted outsider status erupted this week. Manchin released a 31-second video titled “Dead Aim” in which he literally shoots legislation designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. Meanwhile, Raese accepted an endorsement, issued via Facebook, by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
So, just what’s going on in the Mountain State just 2 1/2 weeks before Election Day?
“This is not a pro-Raese election, it’s an anti-President Obama election,” Marshall University professor Marybeth Beller told SolveClimate News. “I’m pretty convinced these two are in a dead heat because what Raese has really tried to hit home with is to align the governor with President Obama.”
West Virginia has voted Republican during the last three presidential elections, including a resounding victory handed to Obama’s GOP challenger, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, in 2008. And Raese is invigorating Republicans by capitalizing on the fact that the President’s poll numbers in West Virginia remain consistently low.
“Manchin, who earned 70 percent of the vote in his bid for a second gubernatorial term, didn’t expect this kind of opposition,” said Beller, head of the political science department at the Huntington, W.Va.-based university.
Guns, Abortion and Coal
Former President Bill Clinton traveled to West Virginia on Columbus Day to rally Manchin’s Democratic base. What has caught Manchin and leadership organizations such as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee off guard is that Manchin has all the right backers in a state where three major issues resonate with voters—guns, abortion and coal.
“Everything has lined up for Joe Manchin. He has endorsements from all three groups,” Beller said, ticking off a lengthy list that includes the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the West Virginia Coal Association, West Virginians for Life, the West Virginia AFL-CIO, and the state’s medical and hospital associations. “Raese doesn’t have any of those endorsements.”
Evidently, Manchin released his most recent ad to kill several birds with one bullet. In the ad he touts his NRA endorsement, promises to “get the federal government off our backs and out of our pockets,” and vows to fix certain parts of the health care reforms. In addition, he reaffirms his distinct dislike for cap-and-trade measures by loading, lifting and then firing a rifle at a paper mock-up of the legislation. “I sued EPA, and I’ll take dead aim at the cap-and-trade bill, ’cause it’s bad for West Virginia,” he says.
Raese’s campaign embraced the Palin thumbs up. Echoing Raese’s anti-Obama tactic, Palin’s Facebook endorsement said the last thing the nation’s capital needs is “another rubber stamp for President Obama and the liberal agenda.”
Beller and others have pointed out, however, that Raese has a unique definition of what it means to be an outsider candidate. Though he’s campaigning in West Virginia, his wife is an official resident of Palm Springs, Fla., the community where their two daughters have attended school.
How It Came to This
After Byrd died June 28 at age 92, West Virginia decision-makers realized they had to rewrite their convoluted election laws before replacing the conservative Democratic senator temporarily—and then more permanently.
In July, Manchin appointed Democrat Carte Goodwin—a 36-year-old Charleston attorney from a well-connected West Virginia family—to fill Byrd’s seat for the short-term. The governor then announced his candidacy to fill the final two years of Byrd’s seat and won the Aug. 28 special primary handily.
This is Raese’s third try for a U.S. Senate seat. He came close to beating beating Sen. Jay Rockefeller in 1984, but Byrd trounced him in 2006. The wealthy Morgantown businessman is the former chairman of the state Republican Party. He is president of Greer Industries, which include Greer Limestone, Greer Steel and Preston County Coal and Coke. In addition, he leads numerous media ventures, including West Virginia Radio, a daily newspaper and a video postproduction house.
For this midterm election, the independent and nonpartisan Cook Political Report categorizes the Manchin-Raese contest as one of 11 toss-up races in the U.S. Senate. That matches the most recent prediction from Rasmussen Reports, which moved the race from “leans Republican” to toss-up based on poll numbers released Wednesday.
This week’s survey of 750 likely voters shows Raese edging out Manchin 49 percent to 46 percent—a near tie when the margin of sampling error is factored in, according to Rasmussen Reports. Two percent preferred another candidate and three percent were undecided. Last week, a similar poll indicated Raese had pulled ahead of Manchin 50 percent to 44 percent.
Manchin Flexible with Energy Vote?
With Democrats scrambling for every seat to retain a majority in the Senate, Manchin is a linchpin. However, those familiar with his vehement opposition to any cap-and-trade measure wonder if he can come to the table on other types of clean energy legislation.
Absolutely, said Beller, the Marshall University political scientist.
“Nothing in the governor’s record indicates that he’s not for clean energy,” she emphasized, adding that West Virginia’s somewhat weak renewable electricity standard is a starting point. “He supports the development of wind farms and alternative energy sources.”
She attributes his firm stand against cap and trade to a desire to show that he doesn’t want to strike peril into a coal-based economy at a time when West Virginians are nervous enough about job security.
“The way he sees it, it doesn’t have to be an ‘either/or’ question, it can be a question of ‘and,’” she said, meaning he can defend fossil fuels while also extending support for wind turbines, solar power and other green technologies. “To him, the ‘either/or’ is a false dichotomy.”
Interestingly enough, Manchin’s ad was released about the same time that ScienceNOW—an online news service of the journal Science—published a study highlighting West Virginia’s potential as a green energy spark plug.
A collaborative effort between Google and geologists from Southern Methodist University in Dallas revealed that the Mountain State is the largest geothermal hot spot in the eastern U.S. The newly mapped hot spots—some reaching temperatures as high as 400 degrees—are anywhere from two to five miles deep, researchers say.
Tapping into this resource could give West Virginia an abundance of geothermal energy that it could use to create electricity to use within its own borders and export to its power-hungry neighbors.