CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's leading business and coal industry groups endorsed Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Thursday in a race marked by dueling views of the long-struggling state's economy and whether it has made progress in recent years.
The state's Chamber of Commerce and Coal Association each cited the Democrat's track record in public office. The chamber counted Tomblin among several endorsed candidates who "have a history of working hard to move West Virginia forward." Coal Association President Bill Raney, meanwhile, called him "a very strong proponent as well as student of the coal industry.
"Earl Ray has always been there in leadership positions," Raney said. "He has a deep understanding of the fiscal situation."
However, Tomblin's tenure has prompted his Republican opponent, Bill Maloney, to cast him as a failed career politician. Tomblin rose from a rank-and-file legislator first elected in the 1970s to West Virginia's longest-serving state Senate president. He narrowly defeated Maloney in a special election last year to complete an unexpired term. Their November rematch is for a full four-year term.
West Virginia has long ranked below all or most other states in such areas as per-capita income and people living in poverty. Tomblin, 60, and other public officials see recent gains reflected by ongoing tax cuts, robust emergency reserves and an unemployment rate that has stayed below the national figure.
Seth Wimer, Maloney's campaign manager, cited such factors as a looming budget deficit threat and "5 straight months of skyrocketing unemployment" to argue that West Virginia remains headed in the wrong direction.
Additionally, Wimer discounted the sources of Thursday's endorsements.
"It's no surprise that the Charleston lobbyists and political insiders, whose livelihoods depend on 'staying the course,' are circling the wagons around Earl Ray," Wimer said.