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Morning Jay: Mountains, Evergreens, and Gems!

6:30 AM, Sep 22, 2010 • By JAY COST
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1. Wild, Wonderful, West VirginiaThe blogosphere was abuzz with talk of the PPP poll showing Republican candidate John Raese ahead of Democrat Joe Manchin, 46-43, in the Senate battle in West Virginia, the Mountain State. 

Morning Jay: Mountains, Evergreens, and Gems!

That seems a little too good to be true.

There is no doubt that West Virginia has moved rightward in its presidential vote over the last couple cycles, going for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, then for John McCain in 2008.  But on the sub-presidential level, it is still quite Democratic. 

West Virginia was strongly Republican from about the Panic of 1893 until the Great Depression.  The only time during this 40 year stretch that it voted for the Democrat for president was in 1912, and that was when the GOP vote split between Taft and TR.  But the Depression transformed West Virginia into a Democratic bastion, and the GOP has not controlled either chamber of the state legislature since Hoover was president.  It’s been competitive for the governor’s mansion since about 1968, but the last time the GOP won a U.S. Senate election in the Mountain State was all the way back in 1956. 

The national Democratic party has moved away from West Virginia, which is why Bush and McCain were able to carry the state with relative ease.  Culturally and even economically, West Virginia has little in common with the liberals from the Northeast and the Pacific Coast who now dominate the Democratic party.  That’s how the Republicans have managed to carry the state’s five electoral votes in the last three contests.

But the funny thing about the Democratic party is that there are sub-national versions of it, and local and statewide Democrats have often been able to thrive even as the electorate votes for the GOP on the presidential level.  The best example is the south.  It has been voting Republican for president in some form or another since 1952, but it was only in 1994 that the GOP won a majority of the House seats in Dixie.

Joe Manchin is a great example of a Democrat thriving despite the national trends.  He was elected governor in 2004, then again in 2008.  He carried 45 percent of the Bush vote in 2004, then a whopping 59 percent of the McCain vote in 2008!

The way for Raese to win is to tie Manchin to Barack Obama and the national Democratic party, which is very unpopular in the Mountain State.  But that will be easier said than done.  Manchin has not been in Washington, D.C., he’s been in Charleston, WV.  That gives him an opportunity to strategically cultivate ambiguity.  That makes Raese’s job difficult, though certainly not impossible.

There have been two polls taken recently in West Virginia – the Rasmussen poll showing Manchin up 7, but just at 50 percent, and the much-discussed PPP poll.  My gut tells me that the Rasmussen poll is closer to reality.   

2. Another Washington Waterloo for Dems?  SurveyUSA is just putting out terrible numbers for the Democrats in Washington, the Evergreen State.  It’s shown Republican Jaimie Herrera cruising against Democrat Denny Heck in the WA-3 open seat, and it’s found incumbent Democrat Rick Larsen down to Republican challenger John Koster in WA-2.  Now it finds incumbent Democrat Adam Smith in a dead heat with Republican Dick Muri in WA-9

That means 3 of the Democrats’ 6 House seats in the state appear to be in jeopardy.  My goodness!  Washington was the most ornery of the 50 states in 1994, booting 6 of the state’s 8 House Democrats in a fit of pique that has not been matched in the 16 years since. Is Washington gearing up for another Republican sweep?

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