West Virginia may be having its election for Governor in October, but which party will emerge holding the office may be decided much earlier in the year than that. If Shelley Moore Capito enters the race she will be the immediate front runner and give Republicans a great chance to take the office for the first time in more than a decade. But if she doesn't run either of the Democratic front runners- acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin or Secretary of State Natalie Tennant- would be a strong favorite over the rest of the GOP field.
Capito is by far the best known and best liked of the possible candidates. 54% of voters in the state have a favorable opinion of her to only 30% with an unfavorable one. She starts out with leads ranging from eight points over Tomblin at 48-40 to 12 over Tennant at 49-37 to 19 over Treasurer John Perdue at 52-33 to 25 over House Speaker Rick Thompson at 54-29. She has a great deal of appeal to Democrats, winning anywhere from 29 to 34% of their vote across the four match ups and also is very strong with independents, leading the Democrats by margins of 23-39% with that voter bloc. If Capito gets in she will certainly be the favorite.
Republican chances of winning don't appear to be very good without Capito in the race though. Tomblin has good approval numbers for his short stint as Governor so far- 42% of voters like the job he's doing to only 20% who disapprove. He swamps the GOP contenders, leading former Secretary of State Betty Ireland by 17 points at 49-32, state senator Clark Barnes by 32 at 54-22, and GOP chair Mike Stuart by 33 points at 53-20. Tomblin wins over more Republicans than he loses Democrats in each of those match ups, a definite formula for victory in a state where the overwhelming majority of voters are Democrats to begin with.
Earning co-front runner status on the Democratic side with Tomblin is Tennant. She has comparable name recognition to him and is also overwhelmingly popular with the voters who know her- 43% rate her favorably to only 19% with a negative opinion. She leads Ireland by 11 points at 43-32, and Barnes and Stuart each by 26 points at 49-23 and 48-22 respectively.
The other 2 Democratic candidates we tested are unknown to a majority of voters in the state- 52% don't know enough about Perdue to have an opinion and that rises to 66% for Thompson. Both of them lead Barnes and Stuart. Perdue has an 18 point advantage over Barnes and Thompson a 10 point one, while Perdue's edge over Stuart is 20 with Thompson up 11. That duo has some difficulty with Ireland though- Perdue ties her and Thompson trails her by 6.
The state of the race at this juncture is pretty straight forward- Capito is the front runner if she gets into the race, Tomblin and Tennant are co-front runners if she doesn't, and Perdue and Ireland have the potential to be competitive but need to build up their name recognition. It looks like a pretty up hill battle for Thompson, Barnes, and Stuart at this point.
Full results here