The election on Tuesday will be something of a watershed event in West Virginia. Will voters decide it's time for our state to take a new course - or will good old boy politics prevail?
Whichever side you're on for governor - Republican Bill Maloney's or Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin's - that's the bottom line. Tomblin is a traditional Democrat politician from Logan County. With one important exception, which we'll get to in a moment, doing things the way they've always been done under Democrat domination of the statehouse is fine with him. Maloney, the Republican from Monongalia County, wants to shake things up. Tax, regulatory and judicial reform to bring new jobs to West Virginia, along with schools made better through some ideas Tomblin would shun, are his cup of tea.
Maloney seems to be gaining some traction, though it remains to be seen whether he can close the popularity gap with Tomblin by next Tuesday, which is Election Day.
Earlier this month, a Public Policy poll indicated Tomblin was just 6 percentage points ahead of Maloney - with about 14 percent of eligible voters still undecided.
A newer poll indicates Maloney is picking up steam. It was conducted by the Melman Group on Sept. 22, for the Democratic Governors Association - and that makes a difference. Public opinion samplers can talk all they want about "scientific polling," but if you've watched their results for a few years, you've noticed that often, results seem to lean toward those hoped for by whomever is paying for the surveys.
Of course, there's another reason to release poll numbers: If they show your candidate in the lead, they tend to create something of a bandwagon effect in his favor.
But if anything, the Melman poll indicates the Tomblin bandwagon may be slowing down. About a month ago, Melman did a poll that showed Tomblin leading Maloney, 47 percent to 33 percent. But on Sept. 22, Tomblin had remained at about the same level, with 46 percent - while Maloney had gained and was at 36 percent. A 14-point lead had been cut to 10 points. Again, remember this was a poll done for Tomblin's friends.
Maloney has good reason to believe an anti-establishment - or, if you prefer, "throw the bums out" - feeling may motivate many voters.
First, as I've noted previously, the number of West Virginians who register to vote as independents has grown enormously during recent years.
Second, Maloney pulled off an upset in the Republican primary election, defeating former Secretary of State Betty Ireland. Much of his campaign against her pointed out she was a veteran of politics, while he was a newcomer from the private sector.
And third, Tomblin cannot avoid being linked to President Barack Obama because both are Democrats -and Tomblin has supported much of the president's agenda. Obama is very unpopular in West Virginia.
Back to that important exception. Indeed, Tomblin is an old-style Democrat who follows the party line on most matters. But a couple of decades ago, leaders in his party diverged from the old ways on how state finances were handled. Now, in part because of work by Tomblin while he was president of the state Senate, West Virginia has a reputation for fiscal responsibility matched by few other states. Tomblin hopes to ride that to victory next Tuesday.
But Maloney's position - that West Virginians can do much better if we just abandon other traditional Democrat policies - will be appealing to many voters. They've noticed that while the government seems to be doing all right, things haven't gotten a lot better for the average Mountaineer for some time. And for the one-in-12 people in our state on the unemployment rolls, they've gotten worse.
It will come down to a get-out-the-vote battle. Can Tomblin mobilize the old-fashioned Democrat machine?
Or will Maloney be able to rally conservatives of both parties, plus independents, who think it's time for a change?
We'll find out Tuesday night.
Myer can be reached via e-mail at: Myer@theintelligencer.net.