A week ago today a Democrat won the race for Governor in West Virgina and that victory may have implications for next year’s general election in Arkansas.
West Virginia and Arkansas have many common traits, such as being one of the poorest states in the Union, culturally conservative, and having a history of voting for Democrats at the state level and voting against the Democrats on the presidential level.
Arkansas and West Virginia have similar economic situations as both have avoided large cuts in state programs and have had gradual tax reductions in some areas. Unemployment levels are also similar with Arkansas at 8.3% and West Virginia at 8.1%, according to recent data.
Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin faced a stiff challenge from Republican Bill Maloney. Maloney fought hard to tie Tomblin to Barack Obama by running television ads charging Tomblin with attempting to implement Obamacare in West Virginia. President Obama’s approval ratings in West Virgina are even lower than his numbers in Arkansas.
Tomblin fought back and kept the campaign agenda focused squarely on state issues. Tomblin also tied himself to popular U.S. Senator and former Governor Joe Manchin, who is also a Democrat. The special election was to fill out the remainder of Manchin’s term.
The National Republican Party spent millions trying to win this seat and while the Democrat won by less than 3%, he still won.
Below are the closing ads for the two campaigns. The Democrat focused on state issues with a strong appearance from a popular state Democrat, and the Republican focused purely on Barack Obama. In the end, West Virgina voters cared more about state issues than any attempt to nationalize the election.
Arkansas Democrats should view the West Virgina Governor’s race as a case study for 2012: Always fight back, keep the agenda focused on state issues and tie yourself to an extremely popular Democratic Governor. It worked in West Virginia.