Jillian Bandes

The West Virginia Senate race was blown wide-open by a new poll that put Republican John Raese’ ahead of Democratic Governor Joe Manchin, 46% to 43%. Raese has an explanation for the sudden surge in a seat that was formerly considered to be a Democratic shoe-in.

First, a late, competitive primary meant six weeks of solid conservative messaging, with airwaves flooded by advertisements that tried characterize different GOP candidates as the “most conservative.”

“During that time, Manchin wasn’t doing any advertising,” said Raese. “He was taking his Democratic nomination for granted.”

West Virginians maintain a 2-1 voter registration advantage for Democrats, but have consistently voted for Republicans on the national level and Democrats on the state level. Most analysts attribute that to the strong affinity to Rockefeller and Byrd legacies, as well as the states utter destitution during the Great Depression.

Flipping that trend is harder than one might think, as national candidates take the state for granted and don’t provide a boost for more local candidates. Additionally, the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s dominance in the Senate prevented a more robust GOP primary in recent years. With Byrd no longer in the picture, and the primary being held at the very end of the summer, a conservative message was able to saturate the Mountain State like never before.

Another factor that Raese gives for his surge was President Obama. Manchin ran against Byrd in 2006, when former President George H.W. Bush did not provide a successful platform for anti-incumbent, anti-Democrat messaging. Raese, on the other hand, can campaign against Obama and Congressional Democrats unsuccessful policies to his heart's content.

“When you talk about national issues today, that has changed,” said Raese, referring to the political climate that his campaign is currently enjoying. “The [conservative] philosophy has paid off for us well.”

A third factor working in Raese's favor is his unique position with unions, a formidable voting bloc in the Mountain State. Raese is a longtime West Virginia businessman who employs over 1,000 people, several hundred of which are members of a union, said Raese. That makes him one of the few Republicans who could actually garner a significant chunk of the union vote.

His business background is a weapon against Manchin, who has been involved in West Virginia politics since the eighties. Raese ran unsuccessfully on the GOP ticket in 1984 and 1988 and has never held state office. While not always a plus, this year he can ride the anti-incumbent wave and play up his business background during tough economic times.

“My whole campaign is build around the conservative message,” said Raese. “That plays well in Washington.”

The bombshell poll that showed Raese ahead of Manchin 46% to 23% was put out by Public Policy Polling, which also correctly predicted Christine O’Donnell’s win in Delaware. Still, a multitude of other polls has Raese trailing Manchin by a much bigger margin, and most analysts still assume Manchin is solidly ahead. But the PPP poll has made West Virginia the counterbalance for Republicans who believe that Christine O’Donnell’s primary win lowered the chances for a GOP Senate pickup in Delaware.


Jillian Bandes

Jillian Bandes is the National Political Reporter for Townhall.com