CHARLESTON — With the primary election just a few weeks away, one political strategist says the state Supreme Court race is going to be fun to watch.
The respected strategist, who wished to remain anonymous, said current Justice Robin Davis is in the driver’s seat for the race for two positions.
“On the Democratic side, I think Robin Davis is in a position of strength,” said the strategist, who isn’t involved in any of the campaigns for Supreme Court or Attorney General. “She’s receiving a plurality of support. She has a fairly long history in West Virginia, and she has been a moderate justice. That appeals to both conservative and liberal Democrats. She has support all across the Democratic party.
“Her television ads have been effective – not controversial or hard-hitting. But they have created a favorable opinion and strengthened that favorable rating with voters. The ads highlight her experience, which is a strong message.”
The strategist said the fight for the second Democratic nomination is the most interesting race in the primary.
“There is no question that Jim Rowe, who is the chosen and backed candidate by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, has run what amounts to a fairly typical West Virginia campaign. He’s had an uphill fight from the beginning in terms of raising money and name identification. Generating a significant awareness among the Democratic infrastructure is hard to do. It can’t be done in 3 or 4 weeks.
“Before his new television ad, his campaign was fairly mundane. But the ad sort of goes against the grain. It is an effective piece of advertising because it humanizes a Supreme Court candidate, which can be hard to do, and highlights his experience. But will it prove to be enough? I don’t know what kind of media buy he had.
“While I think the ad is very good, I have to evaluate the media buy and the reach and penetration to make a full conclusion about whether it will be effective. It seems to me that he was starting at such a disadvantage in both money and awareness. To develop not only an image, but a favorable image, takes a long, long time.”
The strategist said Tish Chafin is running an interesting campaign.
“In one sense, you have a very traditional candidate backed by the more liberal factions of the Democratic Party – the personal injury lawyers and labor,” the strategist said. “But she isn’t necessarily running a typical campaign backed by personal injury lawyers and labor.
“She started campaigning very early. I think it was in December. So, she began establishing her name identification. And her ads have really tried to prove her legal mettle, if you will, by highlighting her experiences as an attorney and as president of the state Bar and framing it in that context. The ads don’t come off as too liberal or too conservative. I think they’re pointedly trying to avoid those narratives.
“Add to that she’s married to Truman Chafin, who has significant reach in Democratic Party. She’s been effective.”
The strategist said the fight for the second Democratic nomination likely will come down to Chafin and Rowe.
“One of them is running a traditional playbook from yesteryear,” the strategist said. “And one is trying to be unique and a little different. Time will tell. Right now, I’d have to say Chafin gets the second nomination. But time will tell.”
As for the other three Democratic candidates – J.D. Beane, Louis Palmer and H. John “Buck” Rogers – the strategist said it is wrong to ignore their impact on the race.
“Those are, relatively speaking, underfunded campaigns,” the strategist said. “It’s reasonable to assume they are going to pull down a percentage of the votes in the single digits.
“But, I do think there are implications. If Rowe and Chafin are in a close election for the second spot and Palmer and Rogers get a few votes that could have gone to one of them, they could have an impact on the election. My personal opinion is that it isn’t going to be that close, but it could be. And then, the effect of those two in the race are huge.
“You always have to look at these candidates who might be easy to dismiss. But the ramifications they have on the overall election is often underestimated.”
Beane’s background could have an impact on the election, the strategist said.
“He is more of a business-oriented candidate from Wood County, and Wood County will have a regional impact on the election,” the strategist said. “He’s going to get votes up there. And he’s probably going to get votes that might otherwise go to Rowe, the other conservative/Chamber-backed candidates. Or they both get those votes and split the effectiveness of those votes.”
While Republicans John Yoder and Allen Loughry have no opposition for the two spots on the fall ticket, the strategist said the primaries still are important for them.
“The Republican candidates are trying to shore up their support,” the strategist said. “It’s always important to note that Yoder got 49 percent of the vote in 2010 against a strong candidate in Thomas McHugh by spending just $6,000.
“Those people who say a Republican can’t win are wrong. It’s woefully amateur to conclude a Republican can’t win in the general election. Yoder, because of his region and because of his noticeable name recognition among voters, will have an impact in November. He could win.
“Allen Loughry, remember, is the only candidate taking the state public financing money. So he’s going to have $300,000 or more to work with. And he’s becoming a better campaigner. He’s more comfortable, and he seems like he’s being fairly aggressive on the stump.
“I think either one of those two guys have a chance to win the second spot in November. Look, it’s going to be hard for anyone to knock off Davis. But there are a lot of votes on the table.
“Loughry is busting his ass getting out there in front of voters. The Republican primary is important to solidify party support. They can’t afford to bleed off any Republican votes in November.”
The strategist said a lot of other factors will affect the race.
“How the presidential, gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races go also will affect turnout,” the strategist said. “And because of Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket, Republicans might account for a higher percentage of straight ticket votes this year in West Virginia.
“Coattails work the other way, too.”
In the state Attorney General race, the strategist said incumbent Darrell McGraw clearly is vulnerable.
“Just look at his polling numbers or his last general election results,” the strategist said. “In 1996, Charlotte Lane lost by just 2 percent. And since then, he’s only won by 1 or 2 percentage points. That shows his vulnerability. Dan Greear barely lost in 2008 in a bad year for the Republican Party. “Hiram Lewis didn’t spend anything. He just went around Republican ‘Green Bean Circuit’ and barely lost. McGraw’s favorability ratings never are impressive. The support he gets among general election voters never is huge.
“Patrick Morrisey is a newcomer to the statewide scene. But he’s a skilled attorney. And his home region – the eastern Panhandle — is critically important to the election. Plus, national third parties will be interested in that race. They’ll have an impact.”
The strategist compared McGraw to U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller.
“For a guy who has been in office for 20 years, McGraw doesn’t have the same kind of reach that someone in a similar situation as might have,” the strategist said. “He’s been around as long as Jay Rockefeller. But Rockefeller’s approval numbers in the high 60s. McGraw is in the 40s.
“But ultimately how effectively Morrisey can get his messages out there and how comfortable he can make himself look while highlighting issues that have caused McGraw problems will be very important. I think if Morrisey runs a more professional campaign than predecessors in this race and if he stays driven, he has a very real opportunity to win in November.”