CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A special election for governor that has attracted national attention, including nearly $6 million in electioneering expenditures by national party organizations, ends Tuesday in an apparent dead heat between the two top contenders.
While the election features five candidates on the ballot, in addition to write-in candidates, the focus has been on Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin, who as Senate president has been acting as governor since November 2010, and Republican newcomer Bill Maloney.
According to a poll released Monday, the race is a dead heat, with Tomblin leading Maloney 47 percent to 46 percent, with 7 percent of likely voters still undecided.
The poll did not include Mountain Party candidate Bob Henry Baber, a former Richwood mayor, nor any of the other independent and third-party candidates on the ballot.
The poll of 932 likely voters conducted over the weekend by Raleigh, N.C.-based Public Policy Polling suggests that Maloney has nearly closed a six-percentage-point deficit reported in a PPP poll conducted over Labor Day weekend.
The polling indicates that a barrage of negative ads aimed at Tomblin has taken a toll in the past month, lowering Tomblin from a plus 25 percent approval rating (50 percent approval, 25 percent disapproval, 25 percent unsure) to a plus 12 percent rating (44 percent approval, 32 percent disapproval and 23 percent unsure).
Polls will be open today from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and on Monday, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant urged voters to shake off any election burnout -- despite this being the fifth statewide election in the past 17 months.
"There will be folks who'll say, 'We're only electing a governor for 14 months,'" she said. "Those 14 months are critical for West Virginia -- look at the previous 14 months."
Tennant said 56,638 voters -- 32,086 registered Democrats, 19,745 Republicans and 4,807 independent and third-party voters -- took advantage of early voting, which ended Saturday.
That's up about 15,000 votes from the May special primary, but about 51,000 fewer early votes than the 2010 general election, which featured the special election for U.S. Senate.
Tomblin closed out the campaign Monday evening with a Democratic get-out-the-vote rally in Charleston, kicking off the party's efforts to get voters to the polls today.
Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said he was not surprised the PPP poll shows a tight race going into Election Day.
"We always knew this race was going to be close," Stadelman said Monday. "We're optimistic West Virginians will remember this race is about what's best for the state, and we'll win tomorrow."