CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin overcame
weeks of Republican attack ads to win the West Virginia governor's
race Tuesday, successfully distancing himself from the Obama
administration and the president's health care plan.
Tomblin, who has been acting governor for the past year, will
finish the final year of a term left vacant by Joe Manchin, a
well-liked governor who stepped down after he won a U.S. Senate
The race was fraught with negative ads from both sides and
narrowed in the final weeks. The national parties spent millions of
dollars on each campaign.
With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Tomblin had 50 percent
of the vote compared with Republican Bill Maloney's 47 percent,
according to unofficial results.
Tomblin campaigned as the rightful heir to Manchin. He said
together they helped shape policies that created pain-free balanced
budgets and revenue surpluses at a time when other states continued to struggle during the recession.
"We tried to stay on message as much as possible," Tomblin
told to The Associated Press before addressing his supporters
Tuesday night. "We do have a stable budget and a stable economy in
West Virginia. That's what people are looking for."
A veteran state lawmaker, Tomblin fended off questions about his
mother's greyhound breeding business and efforts to tie him to
Obama. Republicans were upset Tomblin didn't join a majority of
other states who sued the administration over the health care plan.
Obama lost West Virginia in 2008 and remains wildly unpopular
here, but Tomblin got a replay of last year's U.S. Senate special
election, when Manchin beat back efforts to tie him to Obama.
Democrats outnumber the GOP by nearly 2-to-1 in West Virginia,
but they are considered more conservative than their national
counterparts on both social and fiscal issues, supporting gun
rights and cutting taxes.
Maloney called to congratulate Tomblin before conceding the race
at a gathering of campaign backers in Morgantown, where he has been a drilling engineer and became a millionaire businessman. The political newcomer said he started the race with "zero name ID,
zero traction and zero chance."
"All along the way, the insiders were lined up against us, but
that didn't matter to me because I wasn't running for them, I was
running for you."
The Obama ads featured images of the president floating on the
screen with Tomblin. One spot asks: "What's Gov. Tomblin doing
about Obamacare? Absolutely nothing."
Of at least 21 spots that aired, 15 were attack ads. The
negative ads turned Dushyant Shekhawat against Maloney.
"He's not fighting against Tomblin; he's fighting against
Obama. That I don't like. He should concentrate his run against
Tomblin," said Shekhawat, a federal employee at the National
Energy Technology Laboratory.
The link to the president resonated with Mark Gingerich, who
voted for Maloney.
"I think it's important right now to have a conservative
Republican governor because the states are going to have to do
something together to do away with Obamacare, the socialized
medicine," Gingerich said.
Tomblin, meanwhile, used ads to blame Maloney for sending jobs
to Pennsylvania when the drilling firm he co-founded moved there.
But the relocation came four years after Maloney sold his shares in
Tomblin wasn't as well known as Manchin, who resigned during his
second term to fill the vacancy created by the death of 92-year-old
U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Tomblin became acting governor because of his position as Senate president, a job he held longer than anyone
else in the state.
Tomblin drew a contrast between himself and Obama by saying West
Virginia was far more economically sound than the country. The
state has an unemployment rate below both the national rate and
also has begun gradually cutting both business and consumer taxes,
while improving its Wall Street credit rating and emergency
reserves, points frequently noted by Tomblin's campaign.
Like Manchin, Tomblin sparred with tougher coal mining
regulations from the Obama administration, keeping up a lawsuit the
former governor filed against the Environmental Protection Agency's
handling of permits.
Tomblin has represented the heart of the southern coalfields as
a legislator since 1974, and the mining industry has long been
crucial to the state's economic health. West Virginia's Coal
Association endorsed Tomblin, and the energy sector was his chief
source for campaign cash.
Growing up, Tomblin lived above his family's restaurant. He
received a bachelor's in business management from West Virginia
University and a master's in business administration from Marshall
Tomblin entered politics just as he was finishing college,
getting elected to the House of Delegates in 1974 at age 22.
He later bought a local restaurant, owned a real estate company
and was involved in a business owned by other family members,
Southern Amusement, before they sold it.
Republicans had angled for an outcome similar to last month's
upset in a New York City special congressional election, in which
Obama's favorability loomed large.
"We don't want Tomblin back in there," said retiree Janet
Varney, who along with her husband voted for Maloney. "We just
believe he will follow Obama's policies - and we don't agree with
While West Virginia has had a Democratic governor for the last
decade, it has not elected a governor from the southern part of the
state since the 1960s. The GOP seized on the region's reputation
for political corruption in this race.
Both Maloney and the Republican Governors Association, which has
spent at least $3.4 million attacking Tomblin since late August,
used ads to make an issue of a greyhound breeding business run by
his mother. They claimed Tomblin wrongly diverted money to a state
fund that benefits greyhound breeders.
Tomblin said the breeder with the fastest dogs, not state
officials, determines who reaps the proceeds.
Richard Farley, of Morgantown, is a registered Republican. He
said he was torn until the last minute.
"It was a rough one because I had a choice between Maloney, who
stands for nothing, and Tomblin, who - well, I can't support anyone
who's ever been involved in gambling," he said.
"Unfortunately, I had to go with Maloney," Farley said.
The Obama-themed ads turned him off, though.
"I'm not sure what the president has to do with the
gubernatorial race in West Virginia. That's kind of a non-issue,"
Maloney focused on the state's high poverty ranking and touted
his experience as an employer. He vowed to take West Virginia in a
new direction by aggressively targeting its tax structure,
regulatory policies and court system. He also campaigned on his
contribution to the rescue plan that freed the 33 trapped Chilean
miners last year, saying he provided drilling expertise.
Tomblin and America Works USA, bankrolled by the Democratic
Governors Association, targeted Maloney over whether his businesses paid their taxes on time. America Works devoted at least $2.4 million to negative ads.
Tomblin also touted endorsements from groups ranging from the
National Rifle Association and the state Chamber of Commerce to the United Mine Workers union and West Virginia AFL-CIO.
Tomblin must resume campaigning almost immediately to keep the
seat: It's up again in 2012 for a full four-year term.
Associated Press writers Vicki Smith in Morgantown and Pam
Ramsey and John Raby in Charleston contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)