West Virginia

By Elizabeth Byrum

Since George W. Bush carried the state in 2000, West Virginia’s voting trends in presidential elections have favored the Republican Party. For more than half a century, it has been mostly a Democratic state, with exceptions of the Republican landslide years of 1956, 1972 and 1984.  Now, West Virginia is not considered a battleground state.

West Virginia’s politics has been heavily influenced by its traditionalist  culture and the coal industry.  President Obama , who has spoken out against heavy reliance on coal  and for alternative energy sources, is so unpopular in West Virginia that in the May primary,  he lost 41 percent of the vote and 10 counties to a federal inmate.  West Virginia’s five electoral votes will likely be cast for Mitt Romney in 2012.

West Virginia has three congressional districts.  Of the three representatives, two are Democrats, David McKinley and Nick Rahall,  and one Republican, Shelley Moore Capito, who has served since 2000. In 2012, all three are up for reelection. The state’s two senators, Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller are both Democrats, and Manchin’s seat is up for reelection.

Manchin has an extensive history in West Virgina politics, serving as governor and then as Senator when he filled the vacancy after Sen. Robert Byrd’s death through winning a special election. Manchin’s reelection chances are favorable; he positions himself as a social conservative and therefore does not side directly with the national Democratic Party. Another factor that puts Manchin in a strong position to win is running against John Raese, whom he defeated in 2010.


State and Local Politics

The West Virginia legislature has been controlled by Democrats since 1930. This year,  the candidates for governor are incumbent Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin and his Republican opponent Bill Maloney. In campaigning, Maloney’s supporters are using Tomblin’s Democratic affiliation  to tie him to Obama, in this conservative-minded state. However, with his more conservative policies, Tomblin remained on top in the polls and is also pulling a large percentage of the Republican vote.

The only referendum that made it on the ballot for the general election calls for the limiting of terms for county sheriffs.

The two C’s, culture and coal, are the major factors that influence politics and policy in West Virginia. The state, with an extensive history of economic dependence on coal mining, is hypersensitive to the energy-related economic issues. Demographically, the state has a large share of older individuals, and West Virginia  has seen a departure of many of its younger citizens, who move out to seek work elsewhere. As Democratic leaders have criticized the reliance on coal as an energy-source, the state has turned to national Republican leaders.

Democrats, like Tomblin and Manchin, keep their distance from President Obama and the national Democratic policies.  Therefore, although the state has maintained a Democratic presence in some areas, it is more of a “lingering loyalty, “ as Nate Silver termed it in The New York Times. Many of the state’s officials have not disclosed whom they will be voting for in the presidential race.

The redistricting of the congressional boundaries went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue at stake was population variances among West Virginia’s three districts. The lower court ruled that the redrawn map did not show equal representation, although the districts were used in the May primaries. In September 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decided to uphold the validity of the redrawn maps, stating that West Virginia can use them for the November general election.


The Press and the State

The most prominent sources of political news are the Charleston Daily Mail and The State Journal. Political blogging is few and far between in the state. However, West Virginia Blue, a progressive blog that was rated the state’s best political blog by The Washington Post in 2009. It provides a platform for state bloggers to showcase their work, which tends to focus on emphasizing the more progressive policies on the table in West Virginia politics.  The non-profit organization Appalachian Voices works to advocate for environmental protection in regard to the state’s extensive mountaintop coal removal, and serves as a press resource that details how the situation also extends into the personal and economic lives of West Virginians.


State Elections


Earl Ray Tomblin (D)* (2010-present)

Bill Maloney (R)

David Moran (Libertarian)

Jesse Johnson (Mountain)


Secretary of State:

Natalie Tennant (D)*

Brian Savilla (R)


U.S. Senators:

Jay Rockefeller (D)* (Next Election in 2014)

Joe Manchin (D)* (2010-present)

John Raese (R)

Bob Henry Baber (Mountain)


U.S. Representatives:

District 1
David McKinley (R)* (2010-present)

Sue Thorn (D)

District 2
Shelley Moore Capito (R)* (2000-present)

Howard Swint (D)

District 3 
Nick Rahall (D)* (1992-present)

Rick Snuffer (R)


State Legislature

House of Delegates: 100 House of Delegates District, all are up for reelection in 2012

State Senate: 34 Senatorial Districts, 17 are up for reelection in 2012


State Political Parties

West Virginia Democratic Party – http://www.wvdemocrats.com/

West Virginia Republican Party – http://www.wvgop.org/

Mountain Party of West Virginia (Green Party state affiliate) – http://www.mtparty.org/

Constitution Party of West Virginia – http://www.cpwv.org/

Libertarian Party of West Virginia – http://www.lpwv.org/


Notable State News Sources

West Virginia Press Association – http://www.wvpress.org/

Full list of newspapers – http://www.wvpress.org/wvnewspapers.html


Charleston Daily Mail – http://www.dailymail.com/
The State Journal – http://www.statejournal.com/
The Charleston Gazette – http://wvgazette.com/


West Virginia Blue – http://www.wvablue.com/

West Virginia Blue is a Democratic-leaning blog that emphasizes progressive policies in the state. It acts a blog aggregation, bringing together the work of several West Virginia bloggers. The blog is funded by BlogPAC and the efforts of its all-volunteer staff (“West Virginia Blue,” 2011).

Appalachian Voices – http://appvoices.org/

Appalachian Voices is a non-profit organization that advocates for environmental protection while also focusing on the personal health and livelihoods of people affected by mountaintop removal coal mining, which greatly affects several mountains in West Virgina (“Mountaintop Removal 101,” 2012).