CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Even though the NCAA tournament is over, there's no reason to stop seeding (and I'm not talking about the bare spot next to the governor's mansion). Anything can be seeded, including the governor's races. Here's my take on the Democratic field:
No. 1 seed: Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan. He may be just acting as governor, but he's certainly looked gubernatorial, with such voter-friendly actions as the 1 percent cut in the sales tax on food, and the veto of the Division of Motor Vehicles fee increase. He's also made numerous public appearances around the state under the guise of acting as governor, including trips last week to the Eastern Panhandle and Southern West Virginia.
He's also raised more than $1 million, with a list of major contributors that reads like a who's who of <B>Joe Manchin<P> and <B>Gaston Caperton<P> supporters.
Tomblin's campaign put out an internal poll last week showing him with a 14-point lead in the May primary, which sounds about right. The question remains as to how negative the opposition will go in the final weeks of the campaign. (Mike Plante, consultant to Rick Thompson, is a master of opposition research.)
However, Tomblin's campaign consultants, the firm of Struble Eichenbaum, are probably the best in the business at rebuffing campaign attacks. The fact that Tomblin has yet to air any TV spots is evidence that the campaign wants to have maximum resources available to respond when the attacks begin.
Also, expect the Tomblin campaign to stress stability in state government, as a vote for him could avoid the prospect of having three different governors in three years.
2. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. One consultant described Tennant as being nearly every voter's second choice in the special primary, and could prevail if negative campaigning among the other candidates causes voters to mark off their first choices. After winning election as secretary of state, and with news anchor stints in the Charleston-Huntington and Clarksburg markets, name recognition is not an issue, although fundraising could be.
3. House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne. Most polls have Thompson fourth, but I suspect he'll move up to third, with a heavy rotation of statewide ads raising his still-low name recognition, and with "boots on the ground" in the form of support from the teachers' unions and the AFL-CIO.
(Speaking of ads, a reader noted an error in Thompson's biographical ad, in which he claims to have used his first paycheck from the Army to buy his grandparents a telephone. As the reader noted, prior to the phone system breakup in the early 1980s, everybody leased their phones from Ma Bell. In fact, readers over 30 will recall that phones used to be stamped, "Bell System Property. Not for Sale."
The Thompson campaign clarified Friday that the ad should have said he bought phone service for his grandparents.)
4. State Treasurer John Perdue. After 15 years in statewide office, Perdue's not going to be able to raise his name recognition or relatively low approval rating much in just five weeks.
Consultants I've talked to say his "Big John" ad reeks of desperation. If the governor really had unilateral authority to freeze or roll back utility rates, don't you think Tomblin or Manchin would have exercised that authority?
5. Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. Back in the 1970s, a Morgantown bank used to put out buttons prior to each Mountaineer game, belittling the opposition. One year, when we played Tulane, the button read, "Too little, too late, Tulane." Kessler's campaign made me think of that button.