By The Associated Press
9:36 PM EST, November 6, 2012
West Virginia voters re-elected Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin on Tuesday, even as they rejected President Obama’s bid for second term and considered a lengthy ballot that also features the governor’s race, a slew of legislative posts and a proposed constitutional amendment.
Though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-1 in the state, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney easily won the five electoral votes in a state where Obama suffers some of his lowest approval ratings. That race was called at poll closing based on exit poll data.
In other races, Republican candidates worked to link Democratic incumbents to the unpopular president. Results in the governor’s race were still being tallied.
Republican John Raese made Obama a big part of his campaign against Manchin for a full six-year term in the Senate. Manchin was governor when he defeated Raese, a Morgantown multimillionaire and industrialist, in a 2010 special election prompted by the death of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. The Associated Press called their rematch as initial returns were counted.
Manchin said whoever wins the presidency must work to unite the nation. He proposed a 50-state healing tour, inviting the winner to come to West Virginia first.
“I’m just so committed to that. We just need to reach out,” Manchin told The Associated Press. “Forget about our party politics. Start thinking about our future.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s GOP opponent, Bill Maloney, also invoked Obama while blaming the incumbent for the state’s chronically poor rankings in economic and education categories. Their race marks another rematch. Tomblin was Senate president acting as governor following Manchin’s departure when he narrowly beat Maloney in a special election last October.
Though parts of the state are still recovering from the punishing snows and power outages inflicted by Superstorm Sandy, the sun was shining Tuesday and voters appeared undeterred in Preston County, one of the hardest-hit.
At the Bolyard Funeral Home in Newburg, designated an emergency polling place, Cheryl Engle was ready to clean house at the top of the ballot. She voted for Romney, Raese and Maloney.
“I want Obama out,” said Engle, 59, of nearby Independence. “He’s just not taking us in the right direction.”
In Kanawha County, the state’s largest, Charlotte Nichols voted with her 14-year-old granddaughter in mind. She pushed the button for Obama.
“She needs things to go to college,” said Nichols, 77, of Cross Lanes. “She wants to be a doctor and if she doesn’t have the things for education that Obama is willing to give and help with Pell grants and things, it would be tough on her mom because her daddy died.”
But Nichols, a registered Democrat, split her ticket and picked Raese in the Senate race because she questions Manchin’s loyalty to his party. He’s campaigned as an independent voice and has disagreed with Obama on such issues as coal, federal spending and the national debt. He also skipped the Democratic convention in hopes of distancing himself.
“That’s one thing I’m mad about. He’s a Republican,” Nichols said. “He doesn’t know what he is. I’ve always voted for Joe Manchin. I’ll never vote for him again.”
In the bitterly fought governor’s race, Tomblin cited how the state weathered the Great Recession and fragile recovery under his leadership. Maloney, a Morgantown drilling consultant and business owner, accused Tomblin of prospering at taxpayer expense.
Barbara Bolyard backed Maloney, but more as a statement about what she sees as the incumbent’s inertia.
“Tomblin has been flying on Manchin’s coattails, and I do not like that,” said the 50-year-old Newburg resident. “Everything was set in motion for him. I did not see anything that he did on his own. He just followed through with Manchin’s stuff.”
“If he’d have showed me something that he had the initiative to do on his own,” she said, “he’d have had my vote.”
The GOP’s Obama strategy also extended to other races, including the one for attorney general. Republican Patrick Morrisey, an Eastern Panhandle lawyer who previously worked on Capitol Hill, seeks to deny Attorney General Darrell McGraw a sixth term. The Democrat has found himself outspent by Morrisey and pro-GOP allies who have flooded the state with TV ads.
Four other statewide executive offices, all held by Democrats, also are on the ballot. Treasurer John Perdue faced Mike Hall, the Senate’s minority leader. Freshman Delegate Brian Savilla, like Hall a Putnam County Republican, was soundly defeated by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in her quest for a second term. Larry Faircloth, a former veteran GOP legislator, similarly fell short against Auditor Glen Gainer. Sen. Walt Helmick, a Democrat, and Republican Kent Leonhardt are vying to succeed retiring Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass.
Voters will award a pair of 12-year terms on the five-seat Supreme Court of Appeals. Justice Robin Davis, a Democrat, won re-election to one of those spots. Republican Allen Loughry, a longtime lawyer at the court, was leading the rest of the field: Democrat Tish Chafin, a recent State Bar president, and Circuit Judge John Yoder, a Republican.
All three of West Virginia’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up Tuesday.
Freshman U.S. Rep. David McKinley defeated a low-funded Democratic challenger, Sue Thorn, in the 1st District. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito won a seventh term in the 2nd District, where Howard Swint was the Democrats’ nominee. Both incumbents are Republicans, as is freshman Delegate Rick Snuffer. The Raleigh County legislator is challenging 3rd District Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat seeking a 19th term.
Democrats hold majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, but Republicans hope to erase their margin in the House of Delegates. With all 100 seats up for election, the GOP has focused on seats shifted to the Eastern Panhandle in response to the 2010 Census as well as a redrawn, four-seat district representing part of Kanawha County. Democratic incumbents in Boone, Preston and Monongalia counties also face well-funded Republican opponents.
With half of the 34-member Senate on the ballot, the GOP failed to field challengers to seven of the 11 incumbent Democrats running. The chamber’s contests include two open seats, one representing Kanawha and Putnam counties and the other a district that includes Jackson County. Senate candidates have waged pricey races in the district that includes Mercer County and in the Eastern Panhandle.
A proposed constitutional amendment, meanwhile, would repeal term limits for county sheriffs. While requiring a simple majority, previous attempts failed in 1994, 1986 and 1982.