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Statehouse Beat: Voter fatigue setting in

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Discussing the voter lethargy surrounding the 2012 election, West Virginia Wesleyan political science professor Robert Rupp remarked that you'd probably have to go back a long ways to find the last time the most interesting statewide race was for state Supreme Court.

Voter disinterest this election cycle isn't that hard to explain. In fact, there are several likely reasons:

* Voter fatigue. Going into the seventh election cycle in the past three years, voters are burnt out with the near-constant campaigning.

* Rematches. There's a reason organizers of NCAA bowl games try to avoid rematches of regular-season games, since fans aren't as interested to watch teams they've already seen play each other.

This year, two major statewide races are rematches: Manchin-Raese for U.S. Senate (from the 2010 special election) and Tomblin-Maloney for governor (from a special election less than a year ago.)

So far, neither opponent has made a compelling case to voters to change their votes from just a year or two ago, which probably explains why national pundits have both races as "safe Democrat."

* Negativity and nonsense. It's probably not worth complaining these days that campaigns have largely devolved from efforts to determine which candidate is best qualified and can best serve the state, into competitions to which candidate (and allies) can sling the most mud at his or her opponent.

***

In recent days, the campaigns may not have done much to inform us about who are best candidates for each office, but they've shown us:

* Just how long it takes a video "tracker" to goad Attorney General Darrell McGraw into losing his temper. (Answer: about 3 minutes, 51 seconds.)

* That both the Republican Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association political action committees can distort facts well beyond recognition in their campaign spots. (Although the DGA has a long way to catch up when it comes to distorting reality -- but with Politico reporting Friday they've reserved $2.6 million of air-time for anti-Bill Maloney

  • pots, they've plenty of opportunities pending.)
  • * Most ludicrously, that 8th District Senate candidate Josh Martin, back in his college days, was a wrestler in a third-rate pro wrestling circuit, portraying a "bad guy" given to making some rather nasty narcissistic and misogynistic statements to rile up the "crowds."

    Are we to conclude that Martin, now a thirtysomething lawyer with a wife and son, should be forever disqualified from seeking public office -- or should it reflect badly that Republican challenger Chris Walters has an anonymous supporter or supporters who went to great lengths to compile, copy and stealthily distribute hundreds of pages of "evidence" and distributed them to numerous media outlets?

    The only thing this episode proves is that citizens of the 8th Senatorial District will experience a steep decline in the quality of representation, regardless of which of the two candidates succeeds retiring Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha ... but we knew that already.

    ***

    Perhaps the best example of substance being lost to mudslinging was the response and counter-response to the RGA ads.

    The spots, of course, are near-complete distortions. One takes the legislation passed to pay off the state's $4 billion unfunded liability for future health-care costs for retired state and public school employees and claims it is "Obamacare," the other uses a mine reclamation bill that had the backing of the coal industry to attempt to portray Tomblin as anti-coal.

    Both bills, passed in the 2012 regular session, also had wide bipartisan support: Both bills passed the Senate unanimously, and both passed with a majority of Republican votes in the House.

    Ironically, when the state Democratic Party started making calls to Republicans to remind them their representatives had, in fact, voted for the bills in question, the Maloney campaign decried them as "unlawful, dishonest, dirty political tricks."

    For all the mudslinging theatrics, the substantive question remains unanswered: If Maloney had been governor, would he have signed or vetoed the bills in question?

     If the latter, how would he propose to deal with the repercussions -- an OPEB liability that soon would eat up more than $600 million a year of state funds through a pay-as-you-go system, and having the feds breathing down his neck to clean up abandoned surface mines -- while stuck with a critically under-funded state reclamation fund?

    ***

    Finally, it may not be an old-fashioned whistle-stop tour, but give Republican Supreme Court candidate John Yoder credit for campaign creativity with his upcoming "Voter for Yoder Victory Train Ride."

    Yoder and 14 supporters will be riding the New River Gorge excursion train from Huntington to Hinton and back on Oct. 27.

    Not only will Yoder have a captive audience of several hundred riders for three hours in each direction, but will have a three-hour layover to work the crowd attending Railroad Days in Hinton.

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


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