HNN Staff
EDITORIAL:  Upsets Quite Possible in Governor's Primaries Here

While other state newspapers have decided to go with the flow and follow what they call the "conventional wisdom" about this year's Governor's primary belonging to Earl Ray Tomblin and Betty Ireland, we see several reasons to think otherwise.

First, both the Republican and Democratic primary turnouts are already proving to be extremely low, as evidenced by the small Early Voting turnout.  If the Early Voters are among the ones most  interested in this race, then they have already voted.  Look for the smallest turnout in modern West Virginia history on Saturday's election day.  Besides, who thinks to vote on a Saturday?   But we hope you will take the time to do so.

So if turnout is low on both sides, whose voters are the ones really showing up to do their civic duty?

That is the key question.  Certainly, all the money spent by folks like Earl Ray Tomblin on the Democratic side and Bill Maloney on the Republican side will have a considerable "waste factor" since they're expensive TV ads are being watched by many whom won't bother going to the polls this year.

So who are those turning out this year?  Who really cares enough to go vote this time around?  We identify two groups:

1.  Diehard voters who find their way to the polls everytime.  Maybe 20% of the total.

2.  Those voters with a serious personal tie to a candidate.  We estimate 80% of the total.

On the Democratic side, as we look for that 80%  who really have a bond with a given candidate, we see only one whose background suggests  that kind of close tie with certain voters.

That Democrat is Speaker of the House Rick Thompson, whose ties to the unions in West Virginia may make the difference for him this year.   Thompson collected several union endorsements  in short order this Spring, and they still vote in blocks.

Thompson may or may not win this time.  But we expect his union supporters to make him one of the top finishers on the Democratic side.


On the Republican side, you can search all day for a candidate with a statewide presence AND a deep bond with a statewide plurality of voters.  Bill Maloney has no significant deep ties, being a newcomer, so his turnout may be less than  expected.   Betty Ireland has the benefit of serving statewide one term as Secretary of State, but she hasn't been on the ballot since 2004.  That's a long time in modern politics.  People forget fast.

Only State Senator Clark Barnes has been easily re-elected in his nine-county district in Eastern West Virginia recently--just two years ago.   Popular among his own, Barnes has tried this year to keep the homefolks connected while reaching out beyond his district's borders.

So Barnes starts off with dedicated support in his section of the state--one might call it a 2,000 vote headstart if Early Voter turnout numbers are any indication.   If he can add to that headstart by any significant number of new friends met along the campaign trail this year, he, like Thompson, could be the surprise nominee of his party.

Moreover, Barnes appears to be the chief beneficiary of the current, bitter TV, radio, and robocall war going on between Maloney and Ireland.  As a result, many Republican voters increasingly sour on both Maloney and Ireland in this last week of campaigning. They will go looking for a new candidate to support.  Senator Barnes is there to take them to the prom with a broad smile and a fragrant bouquet of flowers.  He, at least, has been respectful to them throughout this primary.

Dedicated political supporters are very rare these days.  People don't attend political party functions as much as they used  to do in previous generations.  Now the candidates have to go searching high and low for those who still care enough to vote and recommend a candidate to friends.

So don't be surprised if Rick Thompson of neighboring Wayne County and Clark Barnes of Randolph County are the two nominees for Governor on Saturday, May 14th.  Both know how to press the flesh, emphasize core beliefs of their constituents, and stretch a buck to make their campaign messages get out effectively against better-heeled candidates.