THEIR VIEW: A big shift in W.Va. for GOP in 2010

By The West Virginia Record | Jan 27, 2011


CHARLESTON -- Everyone will remember 2010 for being an eventful political year in West Virginia. Senator Byrd's passing leaving major succession questions for both the U.S. Senate seat and ultimately for Governor.

But two important stories receiving less attention are our new legitimate two-party system and the election failure of the unions.

First, the decline of union influence on politics in West Virginia. Most of the action in the primary season at the state level was in the Senate, where the unions and personal injury lawyers attempted to unseat Senators Evan Jenkins, Ron Stollings, Erik Wells, and then tried to retain the seat of Senator Randy White.

All three incumbents who were challenged by union backed candidates won, while the unions were left holding the Doritos bag when White was knocked off by Greg Tucker.

This was followed up by Republicans winning seven seats in the House of Delegates. Strong GOP candidates in Wheeling, Beckley, Charleston, Morgantown and Martinsburg won races that largely went unnoticed because of all of the action at the top of the ticket. Their wins should not come as too much of a surprise however.

Over the last decade, Republican candidates for House of Delegates have been slowly receiving more votes per candidate and more in the aggregate. In 1996, Republican candidates received only 35.4 percent of the total vote in Delegate races.

Now fast-forward to 2002 when the GOP received nearly 40 percent of the overall vote. In 2004 they received nearly 44 percent but with 100 Republican candidates on the ballot.

In 2010, Republican candidates for House of Delegates received nearly 44 percent of the overall vote but this time with only 74 candidates. They also received an average vote per candidate of 6,309: over 2,000 more average votes per candidate than in the off-year election of 1998.

Since 1996, Republican candidates for House of Delegates have been increasing their average vote per candidate by 11 percent in Presidential year elections and by 14 percent more votes on average in non-Presidential year contests.

If the upward trend continues for the Republicans and Democrats continue to lose votes as they have since 2004, then Republican candidates will likely receive more votes than Democratic candidates for House of Delegates in 2014. This may happen regardless of what happens in redistricting.

The real story for Republicans was in the races for Federal offices. Yes, the Republicans picked up a seat with David McKinley's win in the northern district. The bigger picture is even more telling.

In 1996, Republican candidates for Federal offices received 18 percent of the votes statewide for those offices (US Senate and US House.) This percentage rose slightly in 1998 to 19 percent, but only if you include votes of the Libertarian Party who actually had three Congressional candidates.

The percentage of voters choosing Republican candidates went to 23 percent in 2000; 35 percent in 2002 and then up to 42 percent in 2004.

As the pendulum swung back against George W. Bush and the Republican Party, West Virginia's federal candidates were certainly affected.

The percentage of Republican votes dipped slightly in 2006 to 38 percent and then down to 35 percent in 2008 (the GOP did not even field a candidate against Mollohan).

The trend here is obvious though. Doubling the percentage of total votes received for Federal offices was quite an achievement. Well, how huge would it be for Republican candidates for US Senate and the three Congressional races to receive more votes than the Democratic candidates did?

Pretty big, and it just happened. Raese, McKinley, Capito, and Maynard received 506,238 votes, while Manchin, Oliverio, Graf, and Rahall received 504,428 votes.

2010 will be remembered as in important year politically for West Virginia, but the two stories that will change our political landscape for the next generation will be the undeniable presence of a two party system and the loss of electoral influence that unions have, even in Democratic Primary elections.

Thomas is the president of Targeted Communication Strategies, a political consulting firm based in Charleston. He was the general consultant for David McKinley for Congress in 2010.

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