Sabato's Crystal Ball

Notes on the State of Politics

UVA Center for Politics October 6th, 2011

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Tomblin survives in West Virginia

Give West Virginia’s acting governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, some credit: He fought off a spirited effort from a stronger-than expected challenger and the powerful Republican Governors Association to win the right to remove “acting” from his title.

Tomblin, a career Mountain State Democratic legislator, defeated Republican businessman Bill Maloney by about 2.5 percentage points in Tuesday’s West Virginia gubernatorial special election. Maloney beat Tomblin in two of the state’s three congressional districts, but Tomblin carried the Third District (in the southern part of the state) by more than 20 points, according to Bloomberg congressional race guru Greg Giroux. That’s good news for that district’s long-time Democratic incumbent, Rep. Nick Rahall, although Maloney’s win in the First District — held by the narrowly-elected freshman Rep. David McKinley (R) — might be another indicator that that district is trending away from Democrats.

This race could be repeated next year, when Tomblin will try to win a full term and Maloney, emboldened by his strong showing, might try for a rematch. We also don’t know if Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV and daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore, will toss her hat in the ring. Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin (D) will also be on the ballot next year; Tomblin’s victory bodes well for ex-Gov. Manchin, who is more popular than his successor.

For right now, we rate the West Virginia governor’s race for next year the same way we rate Manchin’s reelection bid: LEANS DEMOCRATIC

— Kyle Kondik

Falling by the wayside

As the fortunes of Herman Cain continue to improve, those of some of the other GOP candidates appear to be waning.  In recent days, this appears particularly true for Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose campaign has flagged despite her initial frontrunner status and a victory in the Iowa Straw Poll. Her declining performance has been reflected in her financial trouble and staff losses.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that two Bachmann staffers – her pollster and senior adviser – left the campaign.  This came in the wake of a number of other staff departures in recent weeks and reports that Bachmann has almost depleted her campaign coffers.  Despite her ability to raise what former campaign manager Ed Rollins called “small-donor money,” Bachmann has failed to attract top Republican donors.

Bachmann hasn’t done herself any favors, either. Her recent debate misstep – she seemed to advance the medically indefensible notion that HPV vaccinations can cause developmental disabilities – did little to help change the perception of her as a fringe candidate.

National polling shows the Minnesota representative has fallen far behind Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Perry.  Her Real Clear Politics polling average in recent national Republican primary polls puts her in sixth place, behind not just the frontrunners but also Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

In polls of the Iowa caucus, she had been holding her own with the heavyweights — but there hasn’t been a new poll of Iowa since the end of August, and there’s a real possibility that her Straw Poll victory in the Hawkeye State will represent the clear high water mark of her campaign.

Tim Robinson