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Statehouse Beat: How did Judd get 41% of vote?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tuesday's surprisingly strong showing for heretofore little-known federal prison inmate Keith Judd brought out the conspiracy theorists.

One was former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Charlotte Pritt, who speculated that Karl Rove-type GOP operatives were behind the Judd candidacy, as a way to embarrass the Obama campaign in the national media.

Pritt, who knows about Republican campaign dirty tricks first-hand from her 1996 race against Cecil Underwood, said, "There's no way you carry 10 counties unless there's a lot of campaigning going on." (She was referring to Judd beating Obama in 10 counties in the primary, including six in the 3rd Congressional District, covering the West Virginia coalfields.)

Arguably, you could make the case there was a lot of campaigning going on, indirectly, through a constant barrage of "Coal is West Virginia" radio spots denouncing Obama's EPA...

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Another theory is that, in addition to assuring that Judd had smooth sailing to get on the ballot, powers-that-be in the state Democratic Party went to lengths to assure that West Virginia voters would not be aware that he was a convicted inmate sitting in a federal prison in Texas.

State chairman Larry Puccio, for one, said he didn't think it was the party's place to put out a press release pointing out Judd's checkered life story. Like most everyone else, Puccio presumably dismissed Judd as a fringe candidate who wouldn't generate many votes. After all, Judd barely managed 1.7 percent of the vote four years ago in the Idaho presidential primary.)

(Personally, going into the election, I thought Judd might get enough protest votes to approach the 15 percent threshold, setting off the debate over whether he would be theoretically entitled to have a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. I never imagined 41 percent.)

To buy into this conspiracy theory, one must assume the party powers-that-be anticipated that Judd would pull down major numbers of Democratic votes, thus solidifying how unpopular Barack Obama is with West Virginia, and giving Joe Manchin and Earl Ray Tomblin grounds to further distance themselves from Obama in the general election.

Frankly, the party didn't need a concerted effort to keep Judd's name out of the headlines pre-election. The West Virginia media did a pretty good job of ignoring Judd without any urging.

As best I can determine, the only state media outlets that had any coverage about Judd were the Gazette and the Beckley Register-Herald. Nothing from Associated Press or any of the statewide media networks that would have given voters pause about casting a protest vote for Judd.

Not to fault the state media. The office of president regularly attracts a variety of fringe and wacko candidates (perhaps drawn by West Virginia's comparatively easy ballot access -- more on that tomorrow ... ). The only difference this year was the potential for a sizeable protest vote.

(Whether publicity about Judd would have changed the outcome Tuesday is open to debate: In Kanawha County, Judd got 28 percent of the vote. However, he got 48 percent in Raleigh County ... )

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One of the more confounding things about the Judd candidacy was how he was able to get his certificate of candidacy notarized in the first place.

Turns out his case manager at FCI Texarkana did it. According to a federal Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, every federal prison has a notary public on staff to process documents for inmates, and said there is nothing in their policies that forbids notarizing inmate campaign filings.

Obviously, Judd was able to get certificates of candidacy notarized in 2008 when he was on the presidential primary ballot in Idaho -- as well as the one that reached the West Virginia Secretary of State's office that election after the filing deadline had passed.

Remarkable -- wonder if the same policy stands if an inmate wants to incorporate a business in order to run some sort of scam operation?

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Finally, many national media outlets, relying on Associated Press election night coverage, incorrectly cited Judd as being an inmate at the Beaumont, Texas FCI, (which was his "home" during his 2008 candidacy), which drew this chiding from the Beaumont Enterprise newspaper:

"The presidential candidate who used to call the Beaumont federal correctional facility home -- he's since been moved to Texarkana (yet many 'Pulitzer' winning news outlets are erroneously reporting he's still in Beaumont) -- fared pretty darn well in the West Virginia Democratic primary last night (the only primary in which he is on the ballot)."

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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