EDITORIAL: Democratic Governor's Race Comes Down to Two


West Virginia's registered Democrats have a big decision coming up on Saturday, May 14th.   They will get to choose who carries their party's banner into the October 4th Special General Election.  

No less than five top Democratic leaders have thrown themselves into this quick primary:  Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, State Treasurer John Perdue, and Speaker of the House Rick Thompson.   This is an opportunity of a lifetime for all five individuals.

However, as the race has unfolded, with limited fundraising for most of these candidates, the Democratic contest increasingly looks like a polarized contest between those two ancient party factions:  pro-business Democrats and pro-labor Democrats.   The representatives of those two groups who have fought each other for decades are Tomblin and Thompson, respectively.

Yes, Marshall County State Senator Jeff Kessler is a pro-labor candidate, too.  But Speaker Rick Thompson has received the lion's share of the labor endorsements this year.  Moreover, Thompson has been in high office longer than Kessler, who orchestrated a divisive palace coup against Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin earlier this year.  Thompson has not had that kind of party baggage lately, and he obviously has enough funds to produce a professionally-done TV ad early in this year's contest.

As a result, Thompson has the best claim on being Labor's Governor's candidate since Charlotte Pritt in her epic contest against Cecil Underwood in 1996.  His personal life story--growing up poor in Wayne County and serving in uniform--will resonate with many Democratic primary voters.

Representing the pro-business faction of the Democratic Party is Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.  While Tomblin has tremendous baggage from his perceived power grab as Acting Governor, along with his family's history in Logan County politics, he is seen as at least more friendly to business interests than Labor Democrats like Thompson.  Tomblin's fundraising reports will show abundant donations from corporate lobbyists.

Democrats have a more ideological debate than Republicans on May 14th.  Tomblin and Thompson may not say it, but they are re-enacting the same battle fought by Joe Manchin and Charlotte Pritt in 1996.  As a result, this is a key race. Only Democrats can decide which way their party will go, and this race could set the course for the Democratic Party's future for the next decade.


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