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Statehouse Beat: Election had a few surprises

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some election observations:

I had a hunch a Republican would win one of the two seats on the state Supreme Court ... I just bet on the wrong horse.

I underestimated how much name recognition Allen Loughry could generate in a very short timeframe.

However, even though it was cut off in midstream, the $350,000 of public campaign financing Loughry received was far more than he could have raised on his own, and he used it for an excellent TV ad campaign -- with initial whimsical spots capped off with a strong message that he was not a millionaire, but would be an honest justice. (Kudos to George Manahan and crew.)

He also got an invaluable amount of free publicity this fall when he went to the Supreme Court seeking the release of matching funds under the public financing pilot project -- and it probably didn't help rival Tish Chafin that attorneys acting on her behalf attempted to intervene to block the funds.

Conversely, Chafin's final campaign spot was confusing, dismissive of lawyers who "like to deal in fine print." Isn't that what the law is about?

Also, the Chafin name is negative baggage in certain parts of the state. Ironically, Chafin finished fourth in Mercer County, with only about 23 percent of the vote, even though the county is in husband Truman Chafin's senatorial district.

(Loughry, by the way, brought in a fork and a picture his son, Justus, had drawn for me of a crow. I said, give me a break, I was the only pundit who didn't predict a Chafin victory.

I then feigned a senior moment, claiming I got the Republicans confused, and typed "Yoder," when I meant "Loughry.")

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Best one-sentence summary of the election: Darrell McGraw was a 20th-century candidate who ran a 19th century-style campaign.

While he was getting hit with $1.6 million of independent expenditure attack ads, McGraw relied on fliers, appearances at fairs and festivals -- and one poorly produced, little-aired TV spot.

While many politicos believe the "Scream in Racine" played a bigger role than Don Blankenship's dollars in defeating Warren McGraw in 2004 Supreme Court race, the video of Darrell McGraw grabbing the camera away from a Morrisey "tracker" in Milton did more damage to the attorney general than we first imagined.

(Unlike 2004, there were no commercial spots using the footage, but in this day and age, emails with a YouTube link are more than sufficient.)

That being said, like most political observers, I thought McGraw would squeak through yet again. That voters would regard Patrick Morrisey as an outsider to West Virginia, retained by the corporate entities tired of an attorney general's office that aggressively pursued consumer protection efforts.

(In retrospect, one politico said that when Morrisey was calling on McGraw to debate in all 55 counties, McGraw should have taken the bait, and said, "I'll debate you in every West Virginia county that you can name here on the spot.")

For all his faults, were it not for the settlement money McGraw brought in over the years -- particularly $1.8 billion in tobacco settlement funds -- folks like Joe Manchin and Earl Ray Tomblin wouldn't have been able to go around the state campaigning on how fiscally sound the state budget is. They'd be dealing with a teacher pension crisis like a lot of the states.

Likewise, the office will be losing a lot of institutional knowledge and legal expertise as outstanding lawyers such as Barbara Allen, D.L. Hamilton, Dawn Warfield and Silas Taylor, just to name a few, move to other state agencies or out of public service.

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Speaking of Tomblin, I thought he would have a larger margin of victory, somewhere in the 9 to 11 percent range.

As expected, he ran much stronger in the Eastern Panhandle, north-central West Virginia and Kanawha County than in the 2011 special election. He carried Jefferson County, came within 700-some votes of carrying Berkeley County (where he got 39 percent of the vote in 2011), won Kanawha County handily after squeaking by in 2011, and nearly beat Bill Maloney in his home county of Monongalia, after getting 38 percent of the vote there in 2011.

However, Tomblin's hold of the southern coalfield counties weakened in 2012. He went from winning his home county of Logan by a 9-to-1 to a 4-to-1 margin, and saw his percentages slip anywhere from 4 to 12 percent in other southern counties.

After edging Maloney in Raleigh County in 2011, Tomblin lost the rapidly-turning-red county by 2,310 votes.

Evidently, the constant barrage about Obama's "war on coal," coupled with a series of unfortunately timed mine layoffs, dampened enthusiasm for the first governor from Southern West Virginia in 47 years.

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Finally, the state is in the market again for a party tent for the governor's mansion.

However, before you get your underwear in a bunch, take note that the current RFQ is for a temporary rental -- not a purchase -- from Nov. 24 to March 15.

That would cover the traditional holiday parties at the mansion, any Inaugural receptions, and though what would normally be the end of the regular session -- methinks someone in the Department of Administration forgot the 2013 session runs through mid-April.

The requested tent would be 40 feet by 50 feet, or about half of size of the circus tent in the Manchin administration, and would be hidden away in the mansion courtyard.

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


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