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The Biggest Challenge for a West Virginia Democrat? Obama

West Virginia’s march right, disenchantment with administration leave Democratic Senate hopeful with uphill climb.

by
Rob Longley

Bio

June 9, 2014 - 4:01 pm
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With President Obama’s approval ratings at near-record lows, and the White House lurching from one crisis to the other lately, the last thing Democrats want in a Senate candidate is a political clone of the president.

That’s not a problem for the party in West Virginia, at least.

After all, if there’s such a thing as a Democratic “anti-Obama,” Natalie Tennant, the Democratic nominee to succeed retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller this fall, is about as close as you could get, her allies say.

Democrats point to the two-term West Virginia secretary of state’s positions on a number of high-profile issues as proof she would be no rubber stamp for Obama.

She’s “pro-coal,” long the lifeblood of West Virginia’s economy, and has vowed to bring more coal-related jobs to the state, if elected. What’s more, she opposes Obama’s recently announced emissions reduction plan that trade groups say would be devastating to coal companies, miners and consumers.

Tennant also is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, and is against additional gun regulations like the proposed federal firearms registry.

And she’s hardly a fan of the Affordable Care Act, the healthcare law known as Obamacare. While she hasn’t called for its outright repeal, she says the law is flawed and needs a serious makeover.

Tennant’s conservative streak, party leaders say, strikes the right balance in a state that’s become increasingly conservative — but where registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin.

So why, then, has Tennant consistently trailed her opponent, GOP nominee and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, by as many as 11 percentage points in most polls?

Two reasons, political analysts say.

The first goes back to that abrupt ideological shift the state has made to the right in recent years. Although its voters have always been fiercely independent and far from liberal, the Mountain State for years was one that Democrats could count on in national elections. But that began to change in the 1990s. With 52 percent of the vote in 1996, Bill Clinton was the last Democratic presidential candidate to win West Virginia. In the four elections since then, the GOP nominee has not only won, but has earned an increasingly larger share of the vote each time. George W. Bush got 52 and 56 percent, respectively, in 2000 and 2004; John McCain received just over 56 percent in 2008, and in 2012, the Republican share soared.

“It’s increasingly hard to see a Democrat winning a statewide race in a state where Mitt Romney got 62 percent of the vote,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst with the University of Virginia. “That’s not to say it can’t happen.”

Indeed, as Skelley points out, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, easily won re-election on the very same day Romney trounced Obama in the state.

But Skelly says it would be a mistake to read too much into Manchin’s victory.

“Personally popular politicians like Manchin have been able to overcome this shift [to the right],” Skelly said. “But unlike some previous statewide GOP nominees, Capito is a very strong candidate who will have no trouble raising money or appealing to voters.”

Raising money certainly hasn’t been a problem so far for Capito. She has raised some $4.3 million to Tennant’s $1.7 million, and has more than four times the amount of cash on hand as the Democrat.

Capito, the daughter of former three-term Republican governor Arch Moore, also has “the moderate-conservative profile to not scare off less fervently conservative voters,” Skelly said.

And despite Tennant’s moderate positions on key issues, she is nonetheless tied to a national party that’s generally not well-regarded by West Virginia voters.

“The Democratic Party is seen as fundamentally at odds with many important aspects of Mountain State life,” Skelly said. “It is seen as anti-coal, anti-gun, and anti-traditional values.”

And that, in turn, has a lot to do with the second reason Tennant is trailing Capito. In a word, Obama.

“The biggest issues at play in this race all connect to President Obama and his administration,” Skelly said. “To have any chance, Tennant has to successfully run away from the president on a number of issues, whether it be coal or guns.”

That’s clearly part of Tennant’s game plan. But even if she is successful at touting her reputation as a moderate voice who vows to stand up to Obama, she also must overcome the disdain voters have with her party.

“She has to make a compelling argument to moderate-conservative voters who have traditionally voted Democratic to not stray from the party in a federal election,” Skelly said.

Top Rated Comments   
"That’s clearly part of Tennant’s game plan. But even if she is successful at touting her reputation as a moderate voice who vows to stand up to Obama, she also must overcome the disdain voters have with her party."

One effect of the ACA vote in 2010 was to drive home for the American people that all politics is party politics - when you vote for an individual you are voting for his party as well. Many Democrats swallowed their personal misgivings and toed the leadership's line to put the ACA across; their party loyalty is now the biggest drag on their reelection prospects. The Democrat party is in many voters' minds a conspiracy against the American People.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
As someone uncomfortably close to the action, I must point out that Tennant has several other significant ‘challenges.’ First and foremost, she isn’t too bright.

This is a woman who plumbed new depths of tokenism long before we’d ever heard of Obama or Hillary by becoming the first WVU Mountaineer mascot (buckskins, musket, etc.). If that strikes you as a flimsy premise for a career in ‘public service,’ your intuition is correct. That didn’t prevent her from riding the name-recognition self-promotion express to all points of the compass. Eventually and inexplicably she became WV Secretary of State, where her cube critters pumped out the usual ‘integrity of the vote’ blather.

When she entered US House and later US Senate races, she relied on some embarrassing student council-caliber catchphrases. Suddenly she was a ‘game changer,’ although the game and any changes she may have wrought both went unidentified.

Audiences were hand-picked to the point where they resembled a school or family reunion. Tennant couldn’t shut up about her parents who were teachers while avoiding obvious questions about why they apparently failed to impart any knowledge of the world, including economics, history and geopolitics, to her. In what amounts to elderly abuse, Tennant favored campaign appearances at nursing homes where she emulated the Jay Rockefeller tactic of vaguely promising to ‘fight for coal miners and Social Security.’ Hey, it got Jay reelected every six years even as Clinton slapped taxes on SS and the coal industry took it in the shorts from a radicalized EPA.

But as the writer points out, Obamacare is Tennant and the once-invulnerable WV Dem Machine’s Waterloo. Tennant takes the coward’s way out when faced with incessant, specific questions about Obamacare. She and her equally gormless campaign aides intone that Tennant ‘believes in health care for all West Virginians.’ As opposed to what – propping them up against the crematory door and waiting for the night shift?

Tennant is now attempting the probable loser’s Mouse That Roared routine, challenging Capito to a series of debates that both know will never happen. Admittedly, it would be good value to watch the bare-knuckled Capito with five chances to put Tennant on the Obamacare hot seat but in the end Tennant is merely seeking free media coverage under the rubric of ‘dialogue.’

In her heart of hearts, Tennant must feel cheated. She’s played the game as it existed for decades, buying ads in high school football programs, giving anodyne speeches at Rotary lunches and kissing backsides in Charleston. She never dreamed she would have to run as a Democrat while avoiding every plank of the modern Democrat platform.

For all the abuse West Virginia takes from 49 other states, they respond quickly and decisively to betrayal and lies. Ask Al Gore about WV and gun control. Self-preservation in the face of Marxism might seem to be instinctive but Illinois, Michigan and the rest of the Rust Belt have demonstrated this isn’t necessarily the case. West Virginia is not going down without a fight and they are vigilant against anyone attempting to pull the wool over their eyes.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (5)
All Comments   (5)
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"That’s clearly part of Tennant’s game plan. But even if she is successful at touting her reputation as a moderate voice who vows to stand up to Obama, she also must overcome the disdain voters have with her party."

One effect of the ACA vote in 2010 was to drive home for the American people that all politics is party politics - when you vote for an individual you are voting for his party as well. Many Democrats swallowed their personal misgivings and toed the leadership's line to put the ACA across; their party loyalty is now the biggest drag on their reelection prospects. The Democrat party is in many voters' minds a conspiracy against the American People.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
a novice dem, is going to be independent. Now that is a good April fool's joke, but people of VA. this election isn't in April
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
As someone uncomfortably close to the action, I must point out that Tennant has several other significant ‘challenges.’ First and foremost, she isn’t too bright.

This is a woman who plumbed new depths of tokenism long before we’d ever heard of Obama or Hillary by becoming the first WVU Mountaineer mascot (buckskins, musket, etc.). If that strikes you as a flimsy premise for a career in ‘public service,’ your intuition is correct. That didn’t prevent her from riding the name-recognition self-promotion express to all points of the compass. Eventually and inexplicably she became WV Secretary of State, where her cube critters pumped out the usual ‘integrity of the vote’ blather.

When she entered US House and later US Senate races, she relied on some embarrassing student council-caliber catchphrases. Suddenly she was a ‘game changer,’ although the game and any changes she may have wrought both went unidentified.

Audiences were hand-picked to the point where they resembled a school or family reunion. Tennant couldn’t shut up about her parents who were teachers while avoiding obvious questions about why they apparently failed to impart any knowledge of the world, including economics, history and geopolitics, to her. In what amounts to elderly abuse, Tennant favored campaign appearances at nursing homes where she emulated the Jay Rockefeller tactic of vaguely promising to ‘fight for coal miners and Social Security.’ Hey, it got Jay reelected every six years even as Clinton slapped taxes on SS and the coal industry took it in the shorts from a radicalized EPA.

But as the writer points out, Obamacare is Tennant and the once-invulnerable WV Dem Machine’s Waterloo. Tennant takes the coward’s way out when faced with incessant, specific questions about Obamacare. She and her equally gormless campaign aides intone that Tennant ‘believes in health care for all West Virginians.’ As opposed to what – propping them up against the crematory door and waiting for the night shift?

Tennant is now attempting the probable loser’s Mouse That Roared routine, challenging Capito to a series of debates that both know will never happen. Admittedly, it would be good value to watch the bare-knuckled Capito with five chances to put Tennant on the Obamacare hot seat but in the end Tennant is merely seeking free media coverage under the rubric of ‘dialogue.’

In her heart of hearts, Tennant must feel cheated. She’s played the game as it existed for decades, buying ads in high school football programs, giving anodyne speeches at Rotary lunches and kissing backsides in Charleston. She never dreamed she would have to run as a Democrat while avoiding every plank of the modern Democrat platform.

For all the abuse West Virginia takes from 49 other states, they respond quickly and decisively to betrayal and lies. Ask Al Gore about WV and gun control. Self-preservation in the face of Marxism might seem to be instinctive but Illinois, Michigan and the rest of the Rust Belt have demonstrated this isn’t necessarily the case. West Virginia is not going down without a fight and they are vigilant against anyone attempting to pull the wool over their eyes.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
Anyone elected as a Democrat enables Obama and Harry Reid. If Democrats are so good for West Virginia how the heck has Obama closed down all the coal plants. Wake up West Virginians!
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
If Tennant wants to be seen as a Republican she needs to switch parties. West Virginia has been plagued with Democrat dominated state government for more than sixty years and this has kept the state anti-business, number one state for frivolous lawsuits, and a colony owned by the mostly out of state few who have a stranglehold on the natural resource riches of the state. Too many register and vote Democrat and are kept poor and dependent. Maybe Ms. Capito is not perfect but she is the best Republican on the ticket.
11 weeks ago
11 weeks ago Link To Comment
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