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General election season opens tomorrow in West Virginia

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October 3, 2011

West Virginia

Charleston, WV: The 2011 general election season begins tomorrow in West Virginia. Although the Mountain State was not scheduled to hold a gubernatorial election until 2012, Democrat Joe Manchin vacated his post after winning a seat in the U.S. Senate in the 2010 midterm election. As the Senate President, Earl Ray Tomblin has been acting governor since Manchin assumed his new position.

This is a court-ordered special election to fill the vacancy for the remainder of Manchin's unexpired term; the winner will face re-election again in 2012. But that's not the only reason it's garnered national attention. People across the country are looking at this race as a barometer for the nation's satisfaction with the Democratic Party in general and also as an indicator of the potential for an underdog GOP candidate to unseat a sitting Democratic governor. Add to that the fact that the governor-to-be will take office immediately and begin to shape the state's 2012 legislative agenda, and this election may prove to be the most important race ever run for a 14 month term.

Five candidates are competing for the state's top executive position: current acting governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D), mining engineer Bill Maloney (R), Glenville State College major gifts officer Bob Henry Baber (Mountain Party), locomotive engineer Harry Bertram (American Third Position), and educator and school counselor Marla Ingels (Independent). Though all are officially on the ballot, only Tomblin and Maloney were invited to both of the candidate debates, and race coverage has focused almost exclusively on the two major parties.

Tomblin picked up key endorsements from some of the state's most prominent newspapers, labor unions, and chambers of commerce, along with the National Rifle Association and Fraternal Order of Police. In the polls, though, he doesn't have as clear an advantage. The latest poll, conducted in early September, gives Tomblin just a 6 point advantage over his opponent[1] - a number that has been steadily shrinking since he led Maloney by 15 points in a May poll.[2]

The two major party candidates have been battling it out in live debates and on the airwaves since May. The main issues continue to be job creation and lowering the state's taxes, although negative ads launched by both sides caused some ripples in mid-September and shifted the focus of the race slightly. Maloney's campaign released this ad in early September, accusing Tomblin of directing state money to his family's greyhound racing business while cutting a clothing allowance to low-income students:

Tomblin's campaign responded with an attack ad of its own, alleging that Maloney has no vested interest in West Virginia:

Early voting ended on October 1 and Natalie Tennant, the West Virginia Secretary of State and herself a candidate in the Democratic primary election, reported a larger-than-expected turnout.[3] Polls will open tomorrow at 6:30 AM and remain open until 7:30 PM, local time.[4]

Be sure to check back with Ballotpedia tomorrow and Wednesday for coverage of the election and what it means for the next year in West Virginia.

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