Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has broken open the Democratic primary race in West Virginia and now leads by 15 points. Tomblin is at 32% to 17% for state Treasurer John Perdue, 16% for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, and 15% for House Speaker Rick Thompson. Jeff Kessler at 5% and Arne Moltis at 1% round out the field.
When PPP polled this race in January Tomblin led Tennant by just a single point. Since then Tomblin has gained 7 points while Tennant has headed in the wrong direction, losing 8 points. The only candidate besides Tomblin who has gained any momentum over the last three months is Thompson, who's gone up 9 points from 6% to 15%. Perdue has basically stayed in place. He was at 16% and is now up just a single point to 17%. It seems entirely possible given the current trajectory of each candidate's support that you could see a final result with Tomblin in first, Thompson in second, Perdue in third, and Tennant all the way back in fourth despite her initial co-front runner status.
Tomblin is winning across the entire ideological spectrum of the Democratic electorate, important in a state that has arguably the most ideologically diverse group of primary voters anywhere in the country. As expected Tomblin is particularly strong with more conservative leaning voters, holding a 20 point lead with 'very conservative' voters over Thompson at 36-16 and an 18 point lead with 'somewhat conservative' voters over Perdue at 42-24. But he leads with liberal leaning voters too, albeit by narrower margins. With folks describing themselves as 'very liberal' he has a 3 point advantage over Tennant at 25-22. And with ones describing themselves as 'somewhat liberal' his lead is 4 points over Tennant at 25-21.
The Republican side of the equation in West Virginia is actually slightly closer, with Betty Ireland at 31% and Bill Maloney at 17%. None of the other candidates are hitting double digits- Clark Barnes and Mitch Carmichael have 8%, Mark Sorsaia's at 4%, Ralph William Clark and Larry Faircloth each have 2%, and Cliff Ellis is at 1%.
This race seems more prone to an upset over the final two and a half weeks than the Democratic one does. There are still a lot of undecided voters- 28% haven't made their mind up yet. And Ireland's lead is still very much a function of name recognition. 62% of primary voters know who she is, compared to only 38% who know Maloney enough to have formed an opinion of him. With the voters who do have a take on Maloney- whether it's a positive or a negative one- he actually leads Ireland 40-26. So he's winning with the folks who do know him, it's just a question of whether there will be enough folks who know him by the time May 14th rolls around.
For now it looks like it will be Tomblin and Ireland and we'll release numbers tomorrow looking at where that match up would start for the general election.
Full results here