CHARLESTON – Across the country, voters went to the polls Tuesday in record numbers.
But that wasn't the case in West Virginia, and at least one political observer says that decrease in the number of voters statewide –- and especially in the Eastern Panhandle -- might have spelled doom for Republicans in two key state races.
"Looking at the numbers, you can tell that turnout was low among Republicans in the Eastern Panhandle," said Mark Blankenship, president and CEO of MBE, a public opinion research and communications counseling firm based in Charleston. "And that figure was lower than it needed to be if you were Beth Walker and Dan Greear."
Blankenship also said state Republicans weren't able to ride the coattails of GOP presidential candidate John McCain in the Eastern Panhandle.
"They ran too far behind John McCain's vote totals, primarily in the Eastern Panhandle," Blankenship said. "For whatever reason, they were not able to take advantage of what could have been a coattail effect in the Eastern Panhandle."
Regarding the attorney general race, Blankenship said two counties illustrated Greear's problems against incumbent Darrell McGraw in the Eastern Panhandle: Berkeley and Mineral.
"In those counties, Greear received significantly less votes than the Republican AG candidate in the 2000 and 2004 elections," Blankenship said. "That's not what he needed to have been to be successful."
Conversely, Blankenship said Greear did better than expected in Harrison County.
"He was very competitive in Harrison County," Blankenship said. "He did well in some counties you wouldn't expect using historical data. But he under-performed in some key areas, too.
"That Eastern Panhandle, while Republicans did well there, they didn't do well enough. There were votes out there in those counties that were low-hanging fruit. And they just fell a little short.
Blankenship also noted that the margin of victory for McGraw has continued to get smaller and smaller over the last few elections.
"In a series of close elections for Darrell McGraw, this was the closest," he said. "And that is interesting that it was so close in such a big year for Democrats."
Blankenship said the state Supreme Court race between Menis Ketchum, Margaret Workman and Beth Walker was as close as polls indicated it would be.
He said data shows undecided voters were the reason Ketchum was the top vote-getter in the final tally over second-place Workman. Both earned spots on the bench because of two open seats.
"Ketchum received a lot of the late-to-decide voters," Blankenship said. "He got a lot of undecideds. That gave him that narrow margin over Workman."
Blankenship said Walker had two disadvantages working against her.
"There was low name recognition and, again, low Republican turnout in the Eastern Panhandle," Blankenship said. "Campaigns are more than just television commercials and radio ads. There has to be a significant get-out-the-vote campaign by the parties.
"Beth Walker made up some significant ground in the last two or three months. She ran an effective campaign. Political observers and the talking-head circuit are going to pay a lot of attention to her in the coming years. She proved she has a future in West Virginia politics."
Blankenship said Ketchum's spot at the top of the ballot showed the effectiveness of his campaign, too.
"Most polls had Peggy Workman as the clear victor among decided voters," he said. "Menis Ketchum tapped into that undecided vote and appealed to them. From a shear political standpoint, you have to give credit to him campaign.
"They were effective at targeting the undecided voters, and spending time and resources to their favor."