West Virginia's Democratic Party was largely successful on Election Day, but the results also show a gray lining.
Barack Obama had been aided by a more extensive ground game and a 2-to-1 voter advantage. But he became the third consecutive Democratic presidential contender to lose the Mountain State to his Republican opponent, and by a slightly greater margin than his 2004 predecessor.
The majority party also proved unable to prevent West Virginia's only Republican member of Congress, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, from securing a fifth term.
"You have the reality that the incumbent is able to work that district in a number of ways and for a longer time period than just the campaign season,'' state Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey said.
Among their Nov. 4 victories were too-close-for-comfort wins in the state Supreme Court and attorney general races, including another squeaker for incumbent Attorney General Darrell McGraw.
Casey cited the $1.1 million worth of last-minute TV ads in those two races, bankrolled by the state and U.S. chambers of commerce and allied groups.
"I think (the result) demonstrates the strength of the party. The only reason I think they were made close is because non-state money was involved,'' Casey said. "A lot of money was spent to try to tilt those races. I'm pleased the electorate wasn't influenced.''
But Casey also said the 11th-hour influx revealed an area of concern for the party. While its pre-election coffers were 22 times the size of the state GOP's, that $279,528 balance was dwarfed by the business groups' outlay.
"I want to see the state party have enough resources so the next time one of these interests come in and try to take a swipe at a Democratic candidate, we can push back,'' he said. "We didn't feel powerless, but it is a very distinct disadvantage.''
The Democrats also failed to keep two House of Delegates seats held by departing party members. They offset the setback by capturing an uncontested GOP-vacated slot in that chamber.
The House losses involved separate regions and issues. The rusting Northern Panhandle saw Republican Pat McGeehan, a recent military veteran and business owner, claim the seat of exiting House Majority Leader Joe DeLong. Lawyer John Shott, meanwhile, increased the GOP's ranks in southeastern West Virginia. He took the seat of the late Delegate Eustace Frederick, a Mercer County conservative who was retiring.
Senate Finance Chairman Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, cited the Mercer County race as one that could have been aided by an Obama appearance. Helmick suggested that an Obama-led rally in Bluefield could have also improved voter turnout in several nearby counties that have been Democratic strongholds.
Democrats will enter 2009 with solid majorities in both houses of the Legislature, a six statewide executive branch offices and four of five seats on the Supreme Court. But a pair of looming, high-profile issues may test the majority party's influence.
Amid the national debate over energy policy and coal's future, the state party has been debating the mountaintop removal method of mining. A resolution calling for a halt to future mountaintop removal permits lost narrowly at its convention this summer.
Casey noted that the party is not scheduled to revisit its platform again until 2012, and said the resolution reflected the larger debate over mining methods.
"On the broad scale, Democrats are on the same page in that coal is important to the energy security of the United States,'' he said. "At least in my lifetime, it will remain so.''
Social conservatives, meanwhile, have launched a campaign to amend the state constitution and outlaw same-sex marriage. The West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists passed a resolution earlier this month backing the push led by the state Family Policy Council.
The issue had been wielded against Democratic legislative incumbents, without success, in 2006 after it arose during that year's session. But Election Day brought to 30 the number of states have defined marriage as between a man and a woman, increasing the pressure on the rest.
Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, has so far turned down the council's request for a special session, noting that West Virginia already describes marriage as "designed for a woman and a man.'' State law also specifically rules out recognizing same-sex marriages granted elsewhere.
"I don't see the party having any participation with that. Our role is to get good people elected,'' Casey said of the topic. "Those are the folks who govern. Those kinds of policy discussions really belong to the elected officials.''