HNN Staff
Bill Maloney
Bill Maloney

We heard repeatedly from those running in the recent Special Primary Election for Governor that the lack of interest in the race  was palpable statewide.  While an occasional good turnout indicated that at least some West Virginians were interested in who would be leading the Executive Branch for the next year, the general response from the public was one big snore.

In fact, this general apathy was given as one of the major reasons for Bill Maloney's success in the GOP Primary, at least by veteran Charleston Gazette statehouse reporter, Phil Kabler.  When asked by some readers why Maloney, a political unknown, was able to top the other more veteran GOP candidates, Kabler responded with two words:  "complacency" and "money."

In short, Maloney could afford to be a two-dimensional figure compared to the others, simply because his was the only statewide effort that had an abundance of both direct mailings and TV ads.   And let's be honest:  that knee-capping of former Secretary of State Betty Ireland didn't hurt Maloney's numbers, either.

But if the public remains chronically uninterested in this campaign, that could be bad news for Maloney, whose job it is to gin up interest first in his own profile and then in the pro-business agenda he has touted for months to Republicans.  Can Maloney get conservative Democrats to lift their eyelids?  Will they gravitate to his blaze orange gun ad he put up during the primary?  Perhaps, but only if such ads don't look as staged.

Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin--who has his receptionists answer at his office with the simple and more powerful "Governor Tomblin's Office"--benefits from the current apathy.  His campaign will send out the word to the southern coal counties that they need votes on October 4th, and while they won't deliver what they used to have, they'll still get enough out to be competitive.

Tomblin's party outnumbers Maloney's 2-1 statewide.  Tomblin has more big business backers and lobbyists friends than just about anyone in state government--they'll raise him big bucks while Maloney will be writing more personal checks to fund his campaign.

Plus, Tomblin benefits from a lethargic state press who has no interest in reporting the seedier side of Tomblin's personal story, whether how his father went to prison for voter fraud or how the man who bought his slot machine business, Joe C. Ferrell, has just been sentenced to two years behind bars.

Tomblin's career has been distinguished in many ways, yet a certain odor remains from his statehouse associations.   But you won't find the press picking up on any of that, as they play by the Marquess of Queensbury's rules, which tend to benefit the status quo in West Virginia.

So Maloney has his work cut out for him this summer.  He must find the issues that penetrate the mindset of voters statewide, whether its the expansion of gambling under Tomblin's watch, the growth of state government over Tomblin's long tenure, or his Logan County way of doing things.  Tomblin is vulnerable on all of these issues--but only a skillful politico with a deft hand will be able to pull it off tastefully.