Raese May Have Found a Sweet Year to Run in 2012

Richard M. Jones
John Raese, playing baseball for WVU
John Raese, playing baseball for WVU

John Raese's political career can be neatly divided into two halves.  As a young man, he went up against two titans of West Virginia politics:  Jay Rockefeller and Arch Moore.  In only his mid-thirties at the time, Raese shocked the West Virginia political establishment--in both parties--by coming within a point or two of defeating both incumbent Governors.

In the 1984 race for U.S. Senate against Rockefeller, Raese was outspent 12-1 in a 2-1 Democratic state.  Rockefeller spent an obscene amount for a small state in which he had universal name recognition:  upwards of $12 million.  Estimates were that each vote that Rockefeller received cost the multi-millionaire $20.

Raese went back to his family businesses and built them up, apparently retiring from politics.  Except for his occasional participation as a Delegate to the national GOP conventions, Raese's political participation was limited to his support of the West Virginia Federation of Young Republicans and backing certain conservative causes and candidates. 

Raese's second political career is now fully operative, hitting all cylinders.   Again, his target is the U.S. Senate.  Again, he is taking on a political giant in Joe Manchin, who, after losing a bruising battle for Governor to Charlotte Pritt in the 1996 Democratic gubernatorial primary, has gone on to a string of victories first as Secretary of State, then as Governor, and now as U.S. Senator. 

But in the U.S. Senate race in 2010, the voting public here remained openminded when watching a challenger like Raese going up against Manchin.  While Manchin won by nine points in 2010, that score doesn't tell the whole tale in that ballgame. 

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With three weeks left in the 2010 campaign, Raese was once again rattling the state's political establishment, surging to an incredible 7 point lead against Manchin, the "man who could not be beat."  Only Manchin's record-setting negative attack ad effort in the last three weeks turned the race around for him.   What Manchin and his inner circle must have wondered was just how Raese had managed to pull ahead of him at all. After all, wasn't Manchin a popular, two-term Governor?

Yes and no.  Manchin was praised on both sides of the aisle for keeping state spending under control when other states had serious fiscal problems.  But West Virginia's chronic unemployment rate remained a sore spot, as did the federal investigation into Manchin and his sidekick, Larry Puccio, now the State Democratic Party Chair.  However, Raese's straight talk on the important issues of the day were the key reason for his surge.

After just one year in Washington, Manchin's reputation as a fiscal conservative is in tatters. Manchin's votes not only for Obamacare but also for additional spending packages put forward by the Obama Administration have raised eyebrows statewide.  The federal debt is the Number One issue for many American voters right now--and Manchin is voting for huge, multi-billion dollar spending bills?

2012 may be the year where Raese's traditional conservative message on less government and more private sector jobs finally hits the bullseye.  Unlike Manchin, who says whatever he thinks will work for him today, Raese's positions are timeless.  He believes in the small businessman, the West Virginia farmer, the young people wanting a chance to stay and work in their home state.  And he simply believes that this has a better chance of happening when the government is less of a factor in our lives.

Meanwhile, Joe Manchin continues to blab to any television camera that he finds, whether at the Orange Bowl game, an event back home in West Virginia, or a whole new bunch of television cameras to preen before in Washington, D.C.  But for all the hot air, what has Manchin done?  How is the State of West Virginia better for him having  been there this past year?  He seems to have become an extension of the Obama Administration, more than an independently-minded U.S. Senator from the Mountain State.

Time will tell, but the pollsters tell us that substance and authenticity are what voters are looking for this year. That may be bad news for Manchin, but good news for John Raese.

 

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