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Republicans believed there was an opportunity to define the governor because he lacked Manchin's name recognition and definition as an independent West Virginia Democrat instead of as a national Democrat. But GOP strategists believe Tomblin may actually be benefiting from the anger toward Washington, D.C., because, in comparison, the state looks better. Tomblin's job rating in the PPP survey showed that 44 percent of those surveyed approve and 32 percent disapprove of his performance.
Some GOP strategists also admit that their own candidate lacks name recognition and definition. Democrats painted Maloney as an out-of-touch millionaire, which appears to have dented the Republican's outsider armor. Maloney had a decent 44 percent favorable to 33 percent unfavorable rating, but Republicans aren't sure he's reached the threshold of credibility with enough voters to defeat Tomblin.
The good news for Democrats is that if Tomblin prevails, it will be because he effectively localized the race. But that's also the bad news for Democrats. Tomblin garnered endorsements from the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, organized labor, the National Rifle Association and a primary endorsement from West Virginia Right to Life. Democrats elsewhere will be hard-pressed to put together a similar coalition.
A Democratic victory in West Virginia wouldn't nullify Obama's negative impact on Democratic candidates; it would just mean that Tomblin had done enough to insulate himself from the president's radioactive numbers.
Even if Maloney comes up short, Cox and the Republicans view their spending as a down payment on a two-year campaign. This election is only for the remainder of Manchin's term, and Tomblin would be up again in 2012. Manchin also will be on the ballot then for a full six-year Senate term.
There has been some talk that a close loss by Maloney would credential him to challenge Manchin in next year's Senate race. But given Manchin's popularity, that's not going to happen, according to sources closer to Maloney than the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
West Virginia will have other competitive races next year and should be a fascinating exercise in ticket-splitting. The GOP presidential nominee will likely defeat Obama handily while Manchin cruises to re-election. Roll Call Politics rates the Senate race as Leans Democratic.
Voters will likely be faced with another competitive gubernatorial contest as well as a competitive race for the 1st district, with a rematch between Rep. David McKinley (R) and former state Sen. Mike Oliverio (D).