Monday, June 28, 2010

Thoughts on West Virginia

RIP Senator Byrd.

We last polled West Virginia in May of 2009. Usually I would not write anything about data that old but as far as I know we were the last national polling company to do a survey in the state. At that time President Obama's approval rating in the state was only 39%. His national approval numbers were still consistent with his 2008 vote share at that time but he was already running behind the 43% he got in West Virginia at that time and I'd imagine his approval in the state is now more around the 35% range.

It's going to be very hard for Democrats to win an open seat somewhere where President Obama has a 35% approval rating. But if those words sound familiar it's because that's the exact same thing we were saying last month about the special election to replace John Murtha and Democrats not only won that race, but won it by a solid eight points.

West Virginia, like PA-12, was one of the few places in the country that did not trend Democratic in 2008. A key difference between the two that needs to be noted though is that while Obama only lost PA-12 by a point he lost West Virginia by 13. So while there are some similarities between the two situations West Virginia has shown a willingness to lean more Republican at the Presidential level.

The fact that Republicans won in Massachusetts where Obama won by 26 and lost in PA-12 where McCain won by 1 was a pretty strong reminder that candidates matter. The best case scenario for WV Democrats would be for Governor Joe Manchin to run. We found last year that he was one of the most popular Governors or Senators in the country with a 53/34 approval rating in a time when the list of politicians over 50% is very, very short. If Manchin runs it's hard to see Democrats losing the seat. Republicans in the state have a pretty short bench. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito would probably be the GOP's first choice.

If Manchin runs Democrats will hold the seat, if he doesn't it's probably a toss up. Republicans shouldn't assume they'll win just because Obama's unpopular there and Democrats shouldn't assume they'll win just because they always win Senate races in the state. Our special elections so far this year taught those lessons pretty clearly.


Anonymous said...

RIP Senator Byrd. My question is, do you intend to go into West Virginia anytime soon since the last time it was polled was May 2009.


wt said...

I think you underestimate Capito's chances if Manchin doesn't run. And comparing a future race in WV to PA-12 just isn't persuasive.

It's an unspoken assumption in the state that she'll be the next Senator. She's not the equivalent of a Tim Burns, and I don't see how anyone could challenge her besides Manchin.

NRH said...

Actually, West Virginia statutes appear to indicate that there will not be a special election this year, because West Virginia has already held its filing period and primaries for the year.

If the unexpired term of any office be for a longer period than above specified, the appointment shall be until a successor to the office has timely filed a certificate of candidacy, has been nominated at the primary election next following such timely filing and has thereafter been elected and qualified to fill the unexpired term.

West Virginia has already closed its filing period for 2010. West Virginia has already held its primary election for 2010. West Virginia does not hold a primary election in 2011, nor does it include any statutory language for holding a special election on any date other than the scheduled general elections, at least for US Senate seats.

So the next time a 'timely filing' would be possible is 2012, with the special election to fill the Senate seat being held at the same time as the seat would otherwise come up normally for election, with the special election determining who holds the seat from November 2012 to January 2013 to finish out the term.

(previously posted in comments over at 538)

Anonymous said...

Sad to hear of Senator Bryd passing away. To think that Governor Manchin not running for this position. Please! He won't walk he will run as fast as he can to get there. As a native born and living in West Virginia it is hard for me to except the fact that a person can make a career in Washington. That needs to change and this is the perfect time to do so. Not more than 4 years allowed to serve in one elected office and then not able to run again for that position. Works for me hope it will for others.

Dustin Ingalls said...

"Not more than 4 years allowed to serve in one elected office and then not able to run again for that position. Works for me hope it will for others."

So you would have a Senator serve only 2/3 of his term?

Jim said...

Can anyone at PPP or anyone commenting here provide any insight into (or maybe a link to an article or research) on how it is that a state like West Virginia (and also Arkansas, for that matter) have remained so dominated by Democrats at the statewide and legislative/courthouse levels? Everything about West Virginia would suggest otherwise (if you rely on the conventional wisdom of someone on the outside looking in): it's a largely white culturally conservative state with no big cities that has voted GOP in the last three presidential elections.

My three guesses are 1) that there may be (?) a large union influence in West Virginia; 2) that there is a population that skews older that still votes on memories of Democratic populism (while ignoring the Hollywood/cultural liberal influences; and 3) the thing about the smaller the black population in a Southern state, the more Democrat it is likely to be (at least that was what some research paper I read once hypothesized).

Any insigh would be great!

South Carolina

herbs814 said...

What makes Manchin so formidable (besides his party connections) is that he is pro-life, pro-gun rights, and pro-coal. What makes Manchin so formidable is that he can convincingly run far to the right of his own party.

NRH said...

I think Jim's probably identified the three big causes, more or less. As a coal-mining state, West Virginia is relatively heavily unionized, and every time there's a mining disaster it reminds the entire workforce that it takes government or union action to protect their lives. West Virginia doesn't have the typical Southern history of racial conflict due to its relatively low levels of minority population, so that polarizing force is absent. And with a history of Democratic registration, there's a self-reinforcing cycle where only Democrats get elected so anyone who wants to be part of the process has to vote in the Democratic primary, so everyone registers as a Democrat. They as a result also tend to elect Democrats who are relatively conservative, which most of the population finds a good compromise - Democrats are happy to have Democrats win, moderates and moderate conservatives are happy to have a vote that aligns with various key interests of theirs. There aren't any areas that come to mind that are Republican-dominated but elect moderates.

herbs814 said...

Byrd will be remembered,
but he won't be missed

“From open racism in the civil rights era, to a narcissistic obsession with having things names after himself, to destructive levels of spending in the service of vote-buying, Byrd epitomized much of the worst of the Democrat party’s tendencies. We don't need to speak ill of the dead, but if we are honest, we must acknowledge there is little if anything to be proud of in Senator Byrd's long Senate legacy.”

NRH said...

Conservatives certainly have nothing to be happy about from Byrd's long tenure; he recognized the moral wrong of racism and renounced it (something Republicans like Rand Paul have yet to do), he denounced Bush's illegal invasion of Iraq at a time when it was politically unpopular to do so, he proudly held a 100% rating from the NAACP in recent years, he pointed out Republican hypocrisy time and again, he was a critical vote to pass major reforms to improve Americans healthcare system, he helped get America out of the Republican-created spiral of job losses, he more or less singlehandedly restored West Virginia's entire infrastructure... the list goes on of proud Democratic accomplishments that Republicans obviously hate.

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