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Tomblin, Maloney take primary

By Staff | May 16, 2011

CHARLESTON (AP) – Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Morgantown businessman Bill Maloney prevailed with commanding leads Saturday in West Virginia’s special gubernatorial primary.

With 99 percent of 1,883 precincts reporting, Tomblin had more than 40 percent of the vote in a field of six Democrats. Maloney had more than 45 percent of the vote to lead a roster of eight Republicans.

Maloney and Tomblin will face Mountain Party candidate Bob Henry Baber in the Oct. 4 general election.

That vote will decide who will finish the term of former Gov. Joe Manchin. Manchin was elected to the U.S. Senate last year to fill the vacancy created by the death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

Tomblin is the state Senate’s president. The state constitution has had him acting as governor since Manchin resigned Nov. 15. West Virginia’s Supreme Court has ruled that an elected governor must take office within one year of Manchin’s departure.

“I think we put on a very positive campaign, a very aggressive campaign,” Tomblin told the Associated Press Saturday. “I think the people of West Virginia liked our message of more jobs and lower taxes.”

Tomblin led House Speaker Rick Thompson, who had 24 percent, and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant who had 17 percent. Among the other Democrats, state Treasurer John Perdue had nearly 13 percent, acting Senate President Jeff Kessler had 5.3 percent, and Arne Moltis had less than half of 1 percent.

Tomblin said Tennant and Perdue had phoned to congratulate him.

Former Secretary of State Betty Ireland trailed Maloney among the Republicans with nearly 31 percent. State Sen. Clark Barnes of Randolph County followed with 9.5 percent. The other GOP hopefuls – Larry Faircloth, Mark Sorsaia, Mitch Carmichael, Ralph William Clark and Cliff Ellis – each had less than 5 percent.

Maloney campaigned as a conservative Republican and successful businessman. The 52-year-old drilling consultant and energy company owner helped develop the plan that freed 33 Chilean miners trapped for 69 days after a mine collapse last year. He said his passion for West Virginia prompted this, his first run at elected office.

“I saw the same passion among voters,” Maloney told AP Saturday. “Our message really resonated on the campaign trail, and that was wonderful to see.”

Overall, voters weren’t drawn to the polls on Saturday as election officials called it a quiet day. Of the state’s 1.2 million registered voters, more than 187,000, or about 15 percent, voted in the election. The tally includes early and absentee votes.

During the campaign, Maloney traded shots with other GOP contenders in the primary’s waning weeks, with each accusing the other of attacking first. He called for the field to support its nominee before the polls closed Saturday, and urged them to attend a May 23, closed-door unity breakfast hosted by state GOP Chairman Mike Stuart.

“Our GOP party will reunite and win in the fall,” said Maloney, who added that Ireland had already phoned to congratulate him.

Maloney’s supporters include a number of the younger party activists who helped Stuart capture the Republican chairmanship last year. Several of these operatives are veterans of the pro-GOP political campaigns bankrolled during the past decade by Don Blankenship, the now-retired chief executive of Massey Energy.

Blankenship was among Maloney’s campaign contributors, who also included others in the energy sector as well as those involved in banking, insurance and other financial services. Maloney had also loaned his campaign $500,000 as of April 29.

Tomblin, 59, is seen as a fiscal hawk, who along with Manchin and Thompson have focused on easing debts and phasing-in tax cuts. Such fiscal policies are credited with helping keep West Virginia’s finances stable and its budgets balanced during the Great Recession and ensuing recovery.

Having represented coalfield voters in the Legislature since the mid-1970s, Tomblin is also considered a champion of that industry amid pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and critics of the mountaintop removal method of mining.

The Logan County native has campaigned on his successful proposal to reduce the sales tax on groceries – though others advocated its immediate or gradual repeal. He also touts his veto of legislation passed this year to increase Division of Motor Vehicle fees. That measure’s supporters sought revenues for the state’s ailing road fund.

Tomblin’s rivals attempted to derail his front-runner status by invoking his family’s business dealings. His mother, a greyhound breeder, routinely reaps state funds meant to support the state’s racing industry. Another company, sold off in 1995, leased the sort of video poker machines widely suspected of paying off illegally until they were outlawed in 2001.

While an array of labor unions endorsed Thompson, Tomblin heralded support from the state’s Chamber of Commerce and Coal Association, the NRA and West Virginians for Life.

The state AFL-CIO targeted Tomblin with an $80,000 television ad campaign in the primary’s final week, alleging he repeatedly failed to support labor-sought legislative measures. A group funded by coal and natural gas interests spent an as-yet-unknown amount on direct mail and automated phone calls praising Tomblin’s performance in office.

With the fracturing of business and labor support among the Democrats, the primary marked an end to the wide-ranging coalition that helped Manchin win election twice as governor and in last year’s special U.S. Senate race.