Its unusual for Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) to face opposition from a fellow Democrat. And the rare primary Mollohan is facing this year in the northern 1st district is atypical in that state Sen. Mike Oliverio is challenging him from the right and not the left.
Oliverio is running on a platform that focuses heavily on the need to reduce the large federal debt not exactly a burning issue in Democratic primaries. He opposed increasing the federal debt limit, criticized the 2009 stimulus law that Mollohan and nearly every other Democrat supported, and also has some problems with the new health care law. Oliverio also opposes abortion, gun control and a cap and trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
West Virginia GOP Chairman Doug McKinney even told a Wheeling newspaper recently that Oliverio has always been a conservative guy and that weve joked for years he needs to come over to the party who thinks like he does.
But Mollohan is fairly conservative for a Democrat on cultural and environmental policy. On cap-and-trade, abortion and gun control, he holds the same conservative positions as Oliverio.
The unconventionality of Oliverios campaign has drawn notice from party officials who wonder how he will unseat Mollohan by running as a more conservative Democrat.
I dont know really how you can run very convincingly to the right of Alan, said Walt Auvil, the chairman of the Wood County Democratic Executive Committee in Parkersburg who is supporting Mollohan for re-election.
Oliverio disagreed. Hes been voting a Southern California agenda as opposed to a northern West Virginia agenda, Oliverio said of Mollohan.
Asked for elaboration, Oliverio said that he would have been an earlier and higher-profile opponent to cap-and-trade than Mollohan, who he said waited until the eleventh hour to announce his opposition to a bill the House narrowly passed.
Nick Casey, the chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, said it will be difficult to unseat Mollohan in the primary in part because Oliverio entered the race late on Jan. 30, the filing deadline and just three and a half months before the primary.
I think Sen. Oliverio is a fine guy, and truthfully, I think if he had been out a lot earlier, it would be a much more interesting race, said Casey, whose organization is neutral in the primary.
Oliverio said that the race is less about how much time the two candidates have and its more about the choice that the voters have and the voters clearly have a choice.
They have fiscal irresponsibility from the incumbent and fiscal responsibility from the challenger, he added.
A senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Mollohan has defended his practice of securing federal funds for the 1st district, which includes Parkersburg, Wheeling and Morgantown. Casey said that Mollohan has a long, distinguished record and worked to build a high-tech corridor in and around West Virginia University in Morgantown.
I dont know what were elected to do if were not elected to work hard for our constituents, and that is what Ive done for 28 years, Mollohan said March 25 on West Virginia radio host Howard Monroes program.
Mollohan has suggested Oliverio hasnt made the case to Democratic voters in the 1st district.