By Steven Allen Adams
CHARLESTON, W., Virginia (Reuters) - A Republican candidate for governor of West Virginia is aiming to tap voter dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama in a bid to win the Democratic stronghold in an election next week.
Just three weeks after Republicans won a surprise victory over Democrats in New York in a congressional district held by Democrats for more than 80 years, Republican businessman Bill Maloney hopes the same discontent will lift him to an upset victory over acting Governor and state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin in West Virginia on October 4.
A survey released this month by Public Policy Polling found Obama had a 32 percent approval rating in West Virginia, with 43 percent of state Democrats saying he is doing a poor job. The only state with a lower approval rating was Wyoming, another coal mining state.
"The Obama effect in West Virginia is huge," said Maloney, a drilling consultant and engineer. "We need to get him out of office; he's trying to kill us."
Polls show Maloney lagging his Democratic rival. In a Public Policy Polling survey released September 7, Tomblin had 46 percent and Maloney had 40 percent support. A September 22 Mellman Group poll, paid for by the Democratic Governors Association, showed Maloney 10 points behind.
West Virginia has not had a Republican governor for 10 years, and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly three to one.
Republicans trumpeted their upset victory this month in the New York special election to replace former congressman Anthony Weiner -- who resigned after becoming embroiled in an Internet sex scandal -- as a strong message to Obama of voter discontent ahead of the November 2012 presidential election.
But Tomblin campaign spokesman Chris Stadelman said he doubted the West Virginia race could become a referendum on Obama. Tomblin has been acting governor since late last year after Governor Joe Manchin was elected to the U.S. Senate.
"What we've stressed the entire time is this race is about West Virginia," Stadelman said. "It's about how Earl Ray Tomblin has the best plan for West Virginia. Any attempt to make that a national referendum is not accurate."
CAMPAIGNING AGAINST OBAMA
With the United States on the brink of another recession and unemployment at more than 9 percent, Obama's chances of reelection will be tied heavily to the state of the economy.
Yet West Virginia has a general fund surplus of $330 million, the fourth largest in the nation, and its unemployment rate has remained below the national average. Its unemployment compensation fund is in the black, it has cut corporate income tax rates and is phasing out a food tax.
Maloney, who was last year part of a team that helped rescue 33 miners trapped for more than two months underground in Chile, said Obama was behind campaign attacks on him funded by the Democratic Governors Association.
"If you say Obama is not involved in this race, you're wrong," Maloney said. "He wants to keep this Democratic governor here, but I'm going to actively campaign against (Obama)."
Maloney's platform includes creating an intermediate appellate court, fixing what he calls the state's "regressive" tax codes and reducing bureaucracy.
"I was in business my whole life and created a lot of jobs. I know firsthand what we need to do to fix things," he said.
Tomblin, a 36-year state lawmaker who has served as senate president and lieutenant governor since 1995, has campaigned on creating a pro-business environment and lowering taxes.
"It's been my philosophy that it's not up to government to create jobs, but to create a business climate where private industry can come in and invest. West Virginia is attractive to businesses now," Tomblin said.
There are three other candidates vying to become West Virginia's governor -- the Mountain Party's Bob Henry Baber, American Third Position's Harry Bertram and independent candidate Marla Ingels. When the vote is certified, the winner will take office immediately.
(Editing by Michelle Nichols and Ellen Wulfhorst)